Those familiar with Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Color Purple, which deals almost exclusively with themes of subjugation and abuse among poor black residents of the Old South, might wonder how such a hard, sad, angry story could translate into a $10 million Broadway musical.
Indeed, it happened, just five years ago, bankrolled in part by Oprah Winfrey.
According to the New York Times, the play is faithful to Walker’s book – cramming in virtually every scene (with a song to match), it’s a little under three hours in length. “From the brass–warmed opening bars of its eclectic overture,” said the Times reviewer, “this musical has an on–your–mark, get–set quality that promises that pages will be flying off the calendar as if in a tornado.”
And the tunes, by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, carry it along in hues of gospel, jazz, blues and ragtime.
Nominated for 11 Tony Awards, it won one, for the singer/actress LaChanze’s turn as Celie, the battered protagonist of Walker’s story.
The Color Purple is on the road now, as happens to all successful Broadway musicals, and the national tour stops into the Johnny Mercer Theatre Jan. 6.
Granted, the story – most people will remember it from the 1985 film version, directed by Steven Spielberg – has an uplifting ending. In 1909 Georgia Miss Celie, separated from her beloved sister Nettie, writes letters to her detailing the abuses suffered at the hands of her husband, called “Mister.”
Her husband’s mistress, singer Shug Avery, becomes Celie’s confidante, lover and protector.
Then there’s strong–willed Sofia, who marries Mister’s son Harpo. Her spirit is broken through an episode involving local whites.
The plot is complicated, spanning 40 years in Celie’s life, and in the end there’s a thrilling coda of empowerment, and the power of the family bond.
As if to take the edge off the subject matter, the stage show is technically called The Color Purple, The Musical About Love.
From the review in New York Magazine: “Celie’s story also lends itself to a tone of bland uplift, and a bathetic daytime–TV sensibility clouds almost everything in the show. Even as Celie’s father gives her to the brutish Mister as collateral for a cow, you can imagine how the show’s joyous finale is going to sound.”
The Savannah performance features Dayna Jarae Dantzler as Celie, Pam Trotter as Sofia, Taprena Augustine as Shug, Edward C. Smith as Mister, Lee Edward Colston II as Harpo, and Traci Allen as Nettie.
The Color Purple
Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe
When: At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 6
By phone: (912) 651–6557