Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” opened last night at the Belk Theater. Even if you’ve seen the movie or read Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, watching it live on stage is still a treat.
I arrived not knowing what to expect. I had read the book more than once and had seen the movie multiple times (it’s my all-time favorite). I worried the play might taint my love of both.
To my surprise, the play offered a perspective I didn’t anticipate. Unlike the movie, which focused on Celie’s (Kenita R. Miller) abuse at the hands of men, most notably Mister, the play deals far more with a poor black girl’s journey toward love, including self-love.
The play is unblinking in its depiction of the lesbian love that develops between Celie and the exotic Shug Avery. It allows us to see more clearly Celie’s transformation to self-empowerment.
Although the play doesn’t follow the movie’s sequence, the big scenes are all there: Sophia’s (Felicia P. Fields) first meeting with Mister (Rufus Bonds Jr.) and the Shug Avery (Angela Robinson) performance in Harpo’s (Brandon Victor Dixon) juke joint. I appreciated the fact that the play used some of the popular lines from the movie to help capture the moments fans have grown to love and anticipate.
The songs do an excellent job of transitioning the audience through the play. My favorites were Sophia’s “Hell No!” and Shug Avery “Push Da Button.” The choreography and costumes are colorful and delightful as the stage came alive in the various scenes, from Harpo’s juke joint to tribal Africa.
Fields definitely steals the show as she brings hearty laughter to the audience with her portrayal of the strong-willed Sophia. Robinson also gives a solid performance as the sexy songstress Shug Avery.
I also enjoyed Miler’s performance as Celie, especially early in the play. Her wild-eyed innocence and broad smile were infectious as she romped with her beloved sister, Nettie (LaToya London). I could almost believe the two were actually little girls. Problem is, Celie never fully grew up in the hands of Miller, so the diminutive actress was less convincing as a grownup Celie. She also lacked the voice as effectively deliver her songs.
I’ll be at the Kennedy Center in Washington next month when Fantasia takes over the role of Celie. I can’t wait to see what she does with it.
Overall, the musical does a good job of covering the four decades of Celie’s spiritual journey. Unlike the book or the movie, the play offers an up-close and extended look at Mister’s full redemption. Sophia and Harpo’s love for one another is another highlight that, though tainted by abuse, blossomed into something beautiful.
Audience members may feel cheated by the hurried ending, however. The play rushes through the reunion of Celie and Nettie far too quickly. Their forced separation was far too important for the audience not to enjoy Celie’s happy ending.
Editor’s note: Click the “comment” button below to share your thoughts with other Qcitymetro.com readers. We’ve made commenting easier.