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Review Roundup: THE COLOR PURPLE Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

The new Broadway revival of The Color Purple opens tonight, December 10, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (242 W 45th Street). Based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize winning novel and the Warner Bros. / Amblin Entertainment motion picture, The Color Purple is adapted for the stage by Pulitzer Prize and Tony award winner MarSha Norman, with music and lyrics by Grammy award winners Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.

Grammy, Academy Award, and Golden Globe award winner Jennifer Hudson makes her Broadway debut opposite Cynthia Erivo, the breakout star of John Doyle's acclaimed Menier Chocolate Factory production, and Orange is the New Black's Danielle Brooks, in the highly anticipated production of The Color Purple. All three women are making their Broadway debuts.

They are joined by Isaiah Johnson (The Merchant of Venice, Peter and the Starcatcher) in the role of 'Mister;' Joaquina Kalukango (Encores! Wild Party, Holler If Ya Hear Me) as 'Nettie;' and Kyle Scatliffe (LES MISERABLES) will be taking on the role of 'Harpo.'

THE COLOR PURPLE is an unforgettable story of enduring love and triumph over adversity. With a fresh, joyous score of jazz, ragtime, gospel and blues, this stirring family chronicle follows the inspirational Celie, as she journeys from childhood through joy and despair, anguish and hope to discover the power of love and life.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: While actors doubling as the orchestra, the concept Doyle is best known for, is eschewed here, his other frequently used techniques - staging that limits personal connections between characters and production values that don't clearly communicate locations - are out in full force. Granted, this production originated at London's modestly-sized Menier Chocolate Factory, so a bit of scaling down is to be expected, but the orchestrations could at least be restored to their original 18 pieces instead of remaining at six.

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Give thanks this morning, children of Broadway, and throw in a hearty hallelujah. "The Color Purple" has been born again, and its conversion is a glory to behold...The current version is a slim, fleet-footed beauty, simply attired and beguilingly modest. Don't be deceived, though, by its air of humility. There's a deep wealth of power within its restraint...it allows audiences to zero in on a show's musical and emotional essence, while seeming to place narrative control directly in the hands of the performers...Ms. Hudson radiates a lush, supple stage presence that is echoed by her velvet voice...But the greatest joy of all, at least for longtime believers in theater mythology, is the ascendancy of Ms. Erivo...Celie undergoes a drastic metamorphosis from battered, invisible wife to determined, self-reliant businesswoman. Ms. Erivo escorts us through these transformations with a subtle but tensile performance that parallels her character's evolution. Like the rest of the show, she never oversells herself; she asks us politely but compellingly to listen...

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: Cynthia Erivo is an absolute marvel in the lead role of Celie, playing her at first with defeated deference, then indignation and then righteous might. Her voice lifts the roof off the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. There are times you forget Jennifer Hudson also is onstage...Doyle's pacing in the first act is so swift that there's little time to breathe as misery seems to visit Celie without release...Things loosen up in a more airy second act...Hudson as the hedonistic Shug Avery rushes her lines a tad but no one will care when she opens her mouth to deliver the title song...There is purity and astounding horse power in her voice. Danielle Brooks...makes a strong Sofia, one whose spirit of mirth never gets lost.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Wow, what a difference a more-focused production makes. When the musical adaptation of Alice Walker's searing story of abuse and deliverance, The Color Purple, premiered on Broadway in 2005, its rewards were compromised by the messy and emphatic qualities of the overblown production. Ten years later, director John Doyle and an electric cast assembled around transcendent British newcomer Cynthia Erivo as Celie have given the show a deep -- and deeply satisfying -- rethink. This revelatory overhaul is characterized by its grace, restraint and soaring spirituality, peeling back the clutter to expose the life-affirming material's molten emotional core. It remakes a patchy musical as a thrilling one.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The ladies wear the pants in John Doyle's ravishing revival of "The Color Purple." Jennifer Hudson is radiant as the love machine Shug Avery. Danielle Brooks shakes the house as the earthy Sofia. And Cynthia Erivo, the tiny pint of dynamite who originated the role at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, brings the audience roaring to its feet as Celie...All three performers are making their Broadway debuts, which makes it all the more thrilling. In a feat of reverse magic, Doyle's minimalist production maximizes the strength and beauty of MarSha Norman's book...Both the beauty and the brains of the score are evident in the fact that each character's signature song belongs only to that character.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: Seeing The Color Purple on Broadway, a decade after its premiere, is like meeting an old friend who has gotten her life together since the last time you saw her. It seems more confident in itself, surer in its sexuality, and it's lost a lot of weight...Doyle's production intensifies The Color Purple and brings out its deeper hues. The musical blossoms into a classic...Celie's journey has a clearer sense of direction than before, but she doesn't have to travel it alone. Erivo is supported by a mighty sisterhood of performers: Jennifer Hudson as Shug, Mister's mistress and Celie's lover; Danielle Brooks as the seemingly indomitable Sofia; Patrice Covington as the exuberant Squeak; Carrie Compere, Bre Jackson and Rema Webb as a trio of gossipy church ladies. This Color Purple is a celebration of black women, and it fills you with appreciation for the musical's return. It's here, and it's beautiful.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: In the glorious Broadway revival of The Color Purple (* * * * out of four stars)...leading lady Cynthia Erivo -- remember the name, because you'll be hearing more of it -- speaks mostly in a low, wry voice. "Speaks" would be the operative word here, because when Erivo raises that voice in song, it soars with a force that seems almost supernatural, but is also distinctly, piercingly human...In Purple, the director confronted a less cohesive score...with lyrics that, like MarSha Norman's book, can flirt with platitudes. Those words and music remain, but under Doyle's guidance...they seem reborn. Melodies float and swing in more R&B-savvy arrangements, providing showcases for the extravagantly gifted singer/actors featured here...The Color Purple is ultimately a story of redemption, and Doyle and his cast do a miraculous job of capturing that essence, down to its spiritual core, without getting preachy or mawkish.

Linda Winer, Newsday: Genuine showstoppers rarely happen in the musical theater, especially in the middle of an act. But when they do, something happens -- maybe to the air pressure in the lungs of theatergoers -- which seems to buoy whole groups of disparate audiences to their feet. It happened at a recent preview of "The Color Purple" and, chances are, it's happening every night. Edging toward the finale of the show, Cynthia Erivo, a British actress in her thrilling Broadway debut, lays into a song...full of defiant realization for her character Celie after a lifetime of insult, drudgery and self-sacrifice...Director John Doyle's passionate, scaled-down, streamlined, low-frills revival of the 2005 musical adaptation of Alice Walker's 1982 Pulitzer-winning novel is not priming us for big musical-theater gestures. And Erivo, who also played Celie in Doyle's hit London reduction, exquisitely paces the understated character through 40 tumultuous years of male-dominated, post-slavery African-American culture.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: The limited staging (a major difference from the original Broadway production a decade ago) puts the focus on the score, by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray...A trio of supremely talented women all making their Broadway debuts do most of the singing. Cynthia Erivo is outstanding as Celie...Hudson gives us a steamy and satisfying Shug...The "Dreamgirls" Oscar winner gets out of the way of the story and the other actors, in what is truly a supporting performance...Brooks...and Kyle Scatliffe, as on-again, off-again lovers Sofia and Harpo, deliver particularly strong performances. Their second act duet, "Any Little Thing," is a grinding, groovy delight...This production, as buoyant and vital as can be, premiered at London's Menier Chocolate Factory in 2013...Broadway's latest incarnation focuses almost entirely on song, but it's still the same joyous and uplifting journey.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: My heart has suddenly grown fonder for "The Color Purple"...The shift from "Who cares?" to "Holy mackerel!" is partly due to a canny staging that squarely puts the focus on the rich score by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. And my renewed excitement also comes from pitch-perfect casting of an unknown and an Academy Award winner in lead roles -- an eloquent echo of the central dynamic of Alice Walker's novel, adapted by playwright MarSha Norman. Cynthia Erivo, a Brit who's unknown in New York, is spectacular as the beleaguered Celie, who loses her innocence, self-esteem and all else thanks to men in her life...she sings with such clear, honest openness that you feel everything she's feeling -- and she feels a lot.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: It's Hudson's co-stars you'll remember...Erivo goes from zero to hero as Celie...Celie's "I'm Here" is meant to be a big eleventh hour anthem of resilience, and Erivo drives it home with dignity and fire...As for Brooks, her sharply funny portrayal of the feisty Sofia won't surprise anyone familiar with Taystee. The shocker is that she can sing -- and when she belts the take-no-guff anthem "Hell No!" you want to shout back "Hell yeah!" "The Color Purple: The Musical" is far from perfect. MarSha Norman's adaptation of Alice Walker's novel takes tons of shortcuts, careening from scene to scene at full speed. Characters, including Celie's brutish husband, undergo drastic changes at the drop of a hat. But the show works in a primal way...Your head may quibble, but your heart's on board.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Propelled by a pair of knockout performances from Jennifer Hudson and Cynthia Erivo, both making their Broadway debuts, this transfer from London's Menier Chocolate Factory takes a minimalist visual approach to a story that sprawls across decades and continents, training the focus firmly on the twists and turns of Alice Walker's highly populated, Brontë-worthy tale...MarSha Norman's book cunningly trims the story to essentials, and the songs by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray get the job done...What sets the production so strikingly apart from the original is director John Doyle's spartan approach to the physical setting, which he also designed...I'm not always a fan of Doyle's approach but here...he shows a mastery of character revealed. And so in the best show-biz sense, The Color Purple is more than the sum of its considerable parts. It's a fine old-fashioned celebration of endurance, grace and goodness, given a powerful African-American depth.

Matt Windman, AM New York: Featuring an exceptional all-black cast led by Jennifer Hudson (in her Broadway debut), Danielle Brooks ("Orange Is the New Black") and English actress Cynthia Erivo, this marks one of the rare occasions where a musical's revival manages to outshine the original production...At first, Doyle's production comes off as overly mannered and limited in movement. But on the whole, it is far more dramatically charged and focused than the elaborate but undistinguished original production. This feels less like a revival than a revitalization, or a new musical altogether. Erivo credibly conveys Celie's 180-degree transformation in personality. The big-voiced Brooks burns with ferocity while slipping into moments of good humor. Hudson is fully authoritative and altogether fantastic in the diva rolE. Johnson has both a crisp edge and the air of a broken man.

Jesse Green, Vulture: For once, the word "revival" is apt: Doyle's intervention amounts to a kind of theatrical CPR, restarting the heart of a show that, in its original production, seemed to die before your eyes...Of course it takes actors who have the subtlety to work at this level...The paradoxical result is a far greater range; the show is not constantly hitting the ceiling. Erivo...proves especially masterful at calibrating the gradations of Celie's emergence, from a kind of dull curiosity when she meets Shug Avery, to the suppressed rage of her nascent rebellion against Mister, to the exquisite shy smile that breaks across her face when she allows herself to believe she is beautiful, to the full sunburst of pleasure that success (as a seamstress) finally affords her. By the time she gets to her 11 o'clock number...you may feel you have seen as great and full a transformation as any previously put on the musical stage.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: A sleek, vastly improved and altogether wonderful revival of "The Color Purple" opened Thursday at Broadway's Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre...under John Doyle's new, inspired direction the musical emerges as one of the most adult shows ever written...Four women is a lot for a musical, and in that original production the focus on Celie...sometimes got lost. The new "Color Purple" never loses sight of its Celie, and Doyle keeps the show revolving around the stunning performance of Cynthia Erivo in the role. She isn't better than LaChanze, Erivo is just different -- very grounded, less impish and adorable. Her more naturalistic approach roots the show, and that's needed because Doyle's minimalism here is very fanciful...Erivo dominates, as she must. But it's a real contest between her and Danielle Brooks' big-voiced, full-bodied Sofie...Jennifer Hudson, in her Broadway debut, brings star presence to the role of Celie's fickle lover, Shug Avery...Here is another big, rich voice, and it is entirely apt that Hudson should be showy with her overuse of melisma.

Jesse Oxfeld, Entertainment Weekly: In the British director John Doyle's emotionally rich and visually striking new production of The Color Purple...there is an elegant staging and three gorgeous star performances...Jennifer Hudson makes her Broadway debut here, and it only reconfirms that she's a star...Danielle Brooks...is Sofia, the rare woman in this world willing to stand up to her husband...she turns out to be a gifted stage actress. She's funny, sensitive, and compulsively charismatic...Erivo...plays Celie, who is diminished and defeated through much of the story but finally finds her strength. Erivo's portrayal of that transformation is remarkable. A quiet, subdued performance slowly gathers conviction, and when finally Celie asserts herself with her climatic anthem of self-possession, "I'm Here," its power is astonishing.

Brendan Lemon, Financial Times: Small in stature, and possessing a secure but not sizeable voice, Erivo gathered the threads of her performance and turned them into something shimmering. John Doyle's production, which slims down the musical that premiered on Broadway a decade ago, also makes an overwhelming virtue of the small-scale...Doyle's staging streamlines the story...If Doyle's production still takes the story too fervently to church, it also allows a place for subtlety...Erivo gives Celie a more believable core than did the galvanic interpretation of Fantasia in the previous Broadway outing. And Danielle Brooks locates all the notes of humour in Sofia, the big-gal character who is Celie's stepdaughter and whose refusal to be bullied by men establishes the evening's theme of female empowerment.

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: The ecstatic noise emanating from West 45th Street may just have enough seismic force to shake foundations all the way to West 145th. It's the strength, collective and individual, of the 17 extraordinary vocal performances of "The Color Purple" -- doubtless the best version of this 2005 musical you are ever going to hear...What remains of "The Color Purple"...is a sleek, fast-paced treatment -- virtually a concert version -- of the journey of Erivo's heart-melting Celie...The setting seems a reflection of unvarnished Celie, who only wants out of life the simple, comforting joys of loving family and fulfilling work...There's more than enough combustibility on that stage, though, to compensate for any occasional energy deficits. And that goes treble for the dynamically emotive Erivo, who makes of Walker's heroine such an urgent life force that you're left in these troubled times with a reassuring sense that goodness really still can be its own reward.

Christopher Kelly, NJ.com: The famous name attached to the revival of the musical version of Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" is Jennifer Hudson...She is, as might be predicted, not a very commanding stage actress, but her full-bodied singing nonetheless lends power and tenderness...Yet Hudson is not the performer you'll leave this show talking about. This "Color Purple" instead belongs to the virtually unknown British actress Cynthia Erivo, who as Celie gives one of those galvanizing, star-is-born performances of which Broadway dreams are made. She beautifully captures Celie's 40-year progression, from abused and meek daughter and wife to confident single woman and mother; and she turns musical numbers that might easily be overly cutesy ("Miss Celie's Pants") or schmaltzy ("I'm Here") into punch-in-the-gut anthems of self-discovery. LaChanze won the Tony for originating this role -- Erivo may just make it two-for-two.

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: For the first time in its long history of dramatization, "The Color Purple" has been afforded an incarnation fully in sync with one crucial aspect of Walker's original authorial intent -- that the audience must participate in the imaginative act in order to comprehend its richness of theme and story...Hudson's portrayal of Shug Avery is notable in the way it forces an audience to measure the extent and limits of its attraction to this glamorous siren with her life-affirming but hedonist ways. For those of us who watched Hudson in concert early in her career, this performance, which is vocally exquisite, shows the remarkable growth as an actress...But Hudson is not the performer who brings down the house...That work belongs to Cynthia Erivo, the British actress playing -- actually, inhabiting is the better word -- the role of Celie and who, better than the several other actresses I have seen play this role, captures not just the fullness of her pain but the stature of her resilience.

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: What a difference a director makes...Rather than rehashing the drama, Doyle has reconceived "The Color Purple" as a communal meditation on a modern American myth. The result...is a spiritually transcendent theatricalization of the tale that had me silently shouting "hallelujah" and "amen." Doyle is aided by a glorious female cast. Jennifer Hudson, who plays Shug Avery, has been brought in for the Broadway production for box office mojo. But luscious as her singing and stage presence are, she's not the star here. Front and center is the London-trained Cynthia Erivo as Celie...Relatively unheralded, she brings stark humanity -- and an astonishing voice -- to the role of the abused young woman dismissed as ugly and worthless who somehow manages to persevere long enough to have her radiant light recognized. It's hard to imagine that Erivo's heart-stirring Broadway debut, a portrayal that derives enormous power from humility, won't be recognized once award season arrives.

Alexis Soloski, Guardian: You won't find much actual purple in The Color Purple, John Doyle's simplified restaging of the formerly florid Broadway musical. At one point the nightclub singer Shug (Jennifer Hudson, making her Broadway debut) steps onstage in a periwinkle suit, but that's the closest the production comes to flamboyance. A restrained expansion of the production Doyle debuted at theMenier Chocolate Factory in London in 2013; this version is streamlined and stripped down. Doyle's strategy allows the fine performances, particularlyCynthia Erivo as the downtrodden Celie, to brighten it up.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: Speaking of commodity musicals, "The Color Purple," first seen on Broadway 10 years ago, is now being revived there in a brand-new production directed by John Doyle and imported from the Menier Chocolate Factory, one of London's trendiest venues. Any way you stage it, the musical version of the film version of Alice Walker's novel is an exercise in treacly feel-good sentimentality, but Mr. Doyle's scaled-down, ruthlessly cut version makes the best possible case for "The Color Purple." He has turned it into a concert-style let-us-tell-you-a-story show whose only set pieces are wooden chairs and woven baskets, in the process stripping away all the whiz-bang aspects of Gary Griffin's 2005 staging, which now appear in retrospect to have obscured the virtues (such as they are) of "The Color Purple."

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy


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