The Color Purple October 8, 2010
By Glen Creason
Even after reviewing several Operas in the past year it was a stretch to imagine a feel-good musical that features a plot involving misogyny, infidelity, incest, spousal abuse, racism and murder. Other hit musicals we have seen feature murdering barbers, promiscuous cats, killer carnival barkers and drunken juvenile delinquents so all things are possible on that stage. Back to this weekends visiting musical of “the Color Purple” at the Performing Arts Centers which genuinely lightened hearts and pleased theater goers with a long and textured musical look at the Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel that became the academy award winning movie back in 1985. Plot details may be hazy since twenty-five years have passed since seeing the movie but the characters as portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery linger in memory. The story, set in the early 1900’s, follows a forlorn young African-American woman who is abused by her father, separated from her children, sent off to a cruel farmer neighbor and parted from her beloved sister while being forced to care for an entire household as if she were a servant. Her saving grace is the visit of the elegant and worldly Shug Avery, a cabaret singer who befriends the despairing young woman. While Celie endures all manner of heartache she manages to rise above the hardships of life in the South during these days of shameful prejudice.
This production by Phoenix Entertainment is fully realized up to the standards of the originals with extremely clever moving sets, expert lighting, dazzling costumes, energetic choreography and a live orchestra to accompany the wonderfully strong singing throughout the almost three hour performance. It’s a very challenging show for the star who in this case is the totally up to it and then some Dayna Jarae Dantzler as the battered and battle tested Celie. Ms. Dantzler is on stage for most of the show and is called upon to act and sing an unbelievable amount of lines and music that she does with aplomb, saving plenty of emotion for the final sweet scene of reunification. Although this truly is a team effort with excellence from the entire cast there are several shining lights to guide the rest. Pam Trotter as Sofia, the talking-back role model for the women is a solid gold scene-stealer and Taprena Augustine is wonderful as the delicately demanding role of Shug Avery who is the heart of the show. Traci Allen is perfect as the wholly good sister Nettie who can really sing. Edward C. Smith as “Albert” or “Mister” or the farmer/husband is perfectly glowering and believable in his late in life change, while Lee Edward Colston II as Harpo and Allison Semmes as Squeak filled their roles up to the brim. The music is fine throughout but several numbers rose above the rest. “Hell No!” by Pam Trotter was the first half highlight along with the sweet “Too Beautiful for Words” by Taprena Augustine who also joined the company in the gutbucket delights of “Push Da Button.” “The Color Purple” which holds the meaning of the entire show might be the one the audience hums on the way to their cars but the real showstopper was Celie’s finale of “I’m Here” that was pure, uplifting anthem.