Thursday, December 17, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: The Color Purple


NOTE: Heather Headley will replace Jennifer Hudson May 10

Color Purple Revival May Be Better Than the Original
By Lauren Yarger
Alice Walker’s moving and haunting novel “The Color Purple” comes to life in a fresh new way thanks to Director John Doyle’s vision for the revival currently running on Broadway.

Originally a best-selling novel by Alice Walker, then a motion picture (starring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg in memorable performances), The Color Purple got a musical stage adaption a little over 10 years ago, with a fine book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray. It was surprisingly good – one of those times a favorite book or movie actually made the transition to the stage. This revival, however, has been stripped back, tightened and made even more vibrant (Doyle also designs the set) in the telling of a young African-American woman who finds herself after enduring years of hardship and suffering. 

One of the spotlights on why this version is so exciting is the knock-your-socks-off Broadway debut of its star, Cynthia Erivo.

Erivo, played the role of Celie in the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of the show in 2013 and  commands the stage again here – despite playing some other powerhouse performances by Jennifer Hudson (Shug Avery) and Danielle Brooks (Sophia) – both of whom also are making their Broadway debuts in the production.

The story follows Celie from 1909 to 1949 in rural Georgia. Forced to give up children she conceives when her father, Pa (Kevyn Morrow) has his way with her, teen Celie’s only happiness comes from the love she shares with her sister, Nettie (Joaquina Kalukango). Pa marries Celie off to a mean, older man with a brood of children. She knows the man only as Mister (Isaiah Johnson) and if forced to put up with his unkempt house and children, his abuse – and his mistress, an entertainer named Shug Avery (Hudson).

But instead of hating each other, the women form a friendship and help each other cope. Meanwhile, Mister’s son Harpo (Kyle Scatliffe) marries an outspoken woman named Sophia (Danielle Brooks) who is not to be messed with -- Brooks' version of the song "Hell, No!" is a tour de force.

As the years go by, we see Celie develop and grow and eventually find a way out of her circumstances. Erivoa's rendition of "I'm Here" brought a standing ovation mid-show. Sophia, however, is defeated by a white dominated society making sure she is left with no hope or dignity -- well almost.

The triumph of the human spirit is palpable, solidified by soaring ballads and extraordinary performances. The faith of Celie and Nettie sees them through and the love they have for each other is a lifeline through years of separation.

If the original was good, this refined, re-envisioned version is even more exhilarating and rewarding. Look for Erivo to get a best actress nod (and Hudson and Brooks also might join her in the featured category.)

The Color Purple delights at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $75 - $145: colorpurple.com; (800) 432-7250

Additional Credits:
Costume Design by Ann Hould-Ward, Lighting Design by Jane Cox, Hair Design by Charles G. LaPointe, Sound Design by Gregory Clarke, Musical Direction by Jason Michael Webb; Orchestrations by Joseph Joubert; Additional Orchestrations by Catherine Jayes. 

Additional casting:
Phoenix Best, Dwayne Clark, Lawrence Clayton, Carrie Compere, Patrice Covington, Adrianna Hicks, Bre Jackson, Grasan Kingsberry, Kevyn Morrow, Ken Robinson, Antoine L. Smith, Carla R. Stewart, Akron Watson and Rema Webb…. Ensemble

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Homosexuality
-- Mature language and themes

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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