BWW Review: THE COLOR PURPLE Places Soul and Spirit On Display at The Hobby Center
The Broadway Across America engagement of the 2016 Tony Award Winning Revival of THE COLOR PURPLE presented a performance brimming with soul and spirit to The Hobby Center. Based on Alice Walker's 1982 novel, the show follows the difficult journey of Celie (Adrianna Hicks), a young black mother in early-20th century Georgia. A story of coming of age and growing-into-her-own, Celie navigates prejudice, star-crossed love, motherhood, and a wealth of hurt as she relies on faith and sisterhood to push her through to better days.
This revival, notable for many aspects, first grasped my attention through the unified and raw harmonies throughout the show, as demonstrated in the opening number "Huckleberry Pie" by Adrianna Hicks (Celie) and N'Jameh Camara (Nettie). Adapted for the stage by Tony- and-Pulitzer-winner Marsha Norman, with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray, the melodic vocals of THE COLOR PURPLE filled the theatre with emotion. There were several moments where the only sound you could hear was a character's raw singing reverberating off the walls of Sarofim Hall, as the audience sat in complete simultaneous silence.
Adrianna Hicks played the initially innocent, sensitive Celie with her mind, body, and soul simultaneously at play. It takes immense focus and technical training to deliver the vocal and acting performance of her character, but the performance she gave required an additional focus of compassion, empathy, and depth. In the beginning of Act I, she already had the audience in the palm of her hand, as the only sounds you could hear were the creaking floorboards of the rustic set and her flawlessly raw voice singing "Somebody Gonna Love You". Her 11 o'clock number "I'm Here" was even more stunning, and Hicks completely stole the performance with it.
A certain crowd favorite, earning many laughs and bouts of applause mid-scene, was Carrie Compere as the spunky and strong-willed Sofia. A powerhouse of vocals, she belted "Hell No!" with steadfast vigor and strength. While set in a different time period, the same themes remain throughout history, and Compere's performance as the renegade Sofia reminded me of the brave individuals of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements happening currently.
Carla R. Stewart was another showstopper, with her personality and vocal abilities taking control of the stage any time she stepped foot on it. Her emotionally charged song "Too Beautiful for Words" visibly changed Celie's outlook on herself and was yet another song to be remembered.
Gavin Gregory was the picture-perfect villain, not just because of his outlandish actions and morally corrupt ways that made his character easy to dislike. Rather, the audience could additionally empathize with him and visually see the humane pain that he felt. Gregory had the audience wholeheartedly despising him, as only a professional actor can, and the emotions of his remorseful song "Celie's Curse" bellowed throughout the theatre.
The team of designers included set design by J.H. Doyle (Sweeney Todd, Company), costume design by Ann Hould-Ward, lighting design by Jane Cox, sound design by Dan Moses Schreier, and wig & hair design by Charles G. LaPointe. Doyle's set was a standout element of the show, constructed as three towering set pieces decorated from head to toe in chairs that were used consistently throughout the show as various scene and prop elements. This imaginative design was intriguing to watch function and intentionally placed focus on the substance of the story.
Conducted by Music Director Darryl Archibald, the orchestra added another layer of substance to the performance with both plucky, upbeat tunes and climactic moments of full-sounding orchestration.
All in all, the entire cast of THE COLOR PURPLE did not merely put on a show for Houston, but rather they did what every great work of theatre should do: they displayed their humanity, their soul, and their spirit for us all to share in.
Photography Credit: Matthew Murphy
Broadway Across America's THE COLOR PURPLE will be running performances from January 9th-14th at The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St. in Houston. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday at 8:00pm, Saturday at 2:00pm & 8:00pm, and Sunday at 2:00pm & 7:30pm. Prices start at $35 and are available by phone (713) 315-2525 OR (800) 982-2787, online at www.TheHobbyCenter.org or www.BroadwayAtTheHobbyCenter.com, and at the Hobby Center Box Office and all Ticketmaster outlets. Discounts are available for groups of ten or more. Email houston.groups@broadwayacrossamerica for more information.