The Color Purple Brightens Broadway
The Color Purple is good family entertainment while not fully accomplishing the daunting task of putting the huge novel on the stage. Subtleties of the novel are sacrificed for trying to get every detail into the show. Yet playwright Marsha Norman does good job of condensing the novel’s intricate plot that extends over several decades. The audience pleasing show, with Oprah Winfrey as one of the producers, is reaching out to educators. (Under development is www.colorpurple.com/education, which will detail initiatives for educators. Study guides with history and other background materials are available by emailing Marcie@campbroadway.com).
The show boasts a terrifically talented cast, a score including blues, gospel and pop. It depicts the endless trials of the saintly Celie (LaChanze), including being raped by her stepfather, having her two babies taken from her, being forced to marry abusive Mister (Kingsley Leggs) and being separated from her beloved sister Nettie (Renée Elise Goldsberry). The story tells how she eventually finds love and self-respect, mainly provided by her loving relationship with the sultry singer Shug Avery (Elisabeth Withers-Mendes). LaChanze provides the proceedings with an emotional center while the Goldsberry and Withers-Mendes are standouts as characters in the large cast.
The storyline includes moments of humor, too, in three church-lady gossips. The show-stopping sly duet “Any Little Thing” sung by Harpo (Brandon Victor Dixon) and Sofia (Felicia P. Fields), Oprah Winfrey’s part in the Steven Spielberg film, also elicits laughter. The Lion King style number, “African Homeland,” goes on too long.
Director Gary Griffin keeps the pace sprightly, and does a good job of balancing the plot, including somewhat too detailed second act. The score by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray skillfully juggles several styles. Outstanding contributions are provided by John Lee Beatty’s versatile sets, Paul Tazewell’s gorgeous costumes, Brian MacDevitt’s beautiful lighting and Donald Byrd’s high energy choreography.# (Broadway Theatre, 53rd & Broadway; 212-239-5200, $26.25-$101.25).#