Playwright: Marsha Norman ( book ); Stephen Bray, Brenda Russell and Allee Willis ( music/lyrics )
At: The Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Tickets: $34-157. Runs through: July 29
The Color Purple is an electrifying ensemble performance, with Adrianna Hicks as a formidable Celie at the helm.
It is set upon a backdrop of fractured wood with suspended chairs on it up to the ceiling, designed by director John Doyle. This invoked all the unseen family and support Celie was craving and sometimes able to feel. The vocal talent of this ensemble was supported by an offstage orchestra, leaving the playing space free for the actors and the audience's imaginations.
Sofia, in this production, is excellently sung and acted to the full comedic potential of the role by Carrie Compere. She hit an outraged backbend at one point that had the audience in stitches. The direction was simple and effective with a beautiful depiction of Africa manifested through cloth.
At one point, Celie envisions a far-off Africa she is quiltingrecalling the African-American tradition of quilting as a way to record history and lineage when it is so constantly being erased. Long spools of cloth emerged from baskets carried on the heads of femme ensemble members, spread out to fill the stage with color, then worn as they portrayed African women. This is just a small example of the elegance and specificity of Doyle's direction.
Also, a spectacular minimalist really clarifies the story. In the beginning, the costume design, by Ann Hould-Ward, was simple earth tones with light patterns. However, she gets to play with color when it comes to the costume designs for Shug Avery ( a steamy Carla R. Stewart ) who is outfitted in a gorgeous purple suit for the title song.
Shug and Celie's romance, underplayed in the film, is unabashedly highlighted in the musical. Watching these Black women sing a beautiful gay duet together was simply wonderful. Both women are striving to get away from Albert, or Mister, sung with a silky baritone by Gavin Gregory in a performance that is not to be missed.
The Color Purple is written with pauses in the music for audience screams, and though the audience was enjoying it, guests did not take advantage of these moments to cheer the singers. Theater etiquette tells audience members to sit still and watch plays in silence, but for this production that would be a disservice. The cast gives so much to the audience and it should receive as much, because the performers don't just singthey sang. When you attend this stellar production, be sure to snap, clap and holler back because this play deserves and demands it.