Review: THE COLOR PURPLE at Geva Theatre

Performances run through June 29th.

By: Jun. 08, 2024
Review: THE COLOR PURPLE at Geva Theatre
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Closing out the 2023-2024 season at Rochester’s Geva Theatre is “The Color Purple”, the iconic book-turned-movie-turned-musical (turned movie again in 2023) that made stars out of Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Cynthia Erivo, and has been brought to the stage on Broadway, the West End, and everywhere in between. Not only is it the perfect endcap to a quality season at Geva, it’s the perfect June show to pair with Pride.  

"The Color Purple" musical—based on the 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker—is a poignant tale of resilience, love, and redemption set against the backdrop of rural Georgia in the early 20th century. The story follows Celie (Nubia Monks), a young African American woman, as she navigates through a life marked by abuse, separation from her beloved sister Nettie (Nambi Mwassa), and societal oppression. Through her enduring spirit and the bonds she forms with other strong women in her life, including the glamorous singer Shug Avery (Angela Wildflower) and the resilient Sofia (Lynnea Doublette on the night I attended), Celie embarks on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. With a soul-stirring score blending gospel, jazz, and blues, "The Color Purple" celebrates the power of sisterhood and the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

While historic in many ways, “The Color Purple” is not always an easy hang. Its content and themes include rape, incest, violence, and for Celie, a life featuring little reprieve from horror and strife. And despite that, the show is oftentimes funny, sassy, bluesy, and quite beautiful. It’s a testament to the talents of the whole cast, but also the vision of director Daniel J. Bryant and the entire artistic team, that a show featuring such weighty themes can also be deeply emotional and highly entertaining.

Geva’s “The Color Purple” (a co-production with the Twin Cities’ Theatre Latte Da) features a cast that is stacked with talent from the ensemble to the top billing. Making this even more satisfying is that, on the night I attended, the cast featured several understudies and even a couple of Rochester locals (shoutout to Jessica James and Jonathan Ntheketha, both superb).

And of course, leading the production is Nubia Monks, who turns in a soaring, powerhouse performance as Celie. As a character, Celie is surely one of the more challenging female roles in the modern musical canon. She is at times deeply sorrowful, other times filled with righteous anger, and at moments even experiences euphoria and joy. Navigating that ever-changing emotional terrain takes immense talent, of which Monks has plenty. There was surely not a dry eye in the house after Act II’s “I’m Here”, a stirring feature performance that received a standing ovation from the audience before the number was even wrapped. Monks does not play Celie, she becomes Celie, and it’s a performance worth every penny of admission.

“The Color Purple” is a triumph, easily one of the top four or five productions I’ve seen grace Geva’s stage in my many years of attendance. It’s playing until June 29th, for tickets and more information click here.  


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