BWW Review: THE COLOR PURPLE Sounds the Clarion Call to Arms
That joyful noise you hear coming from the Hollywood Pantages Theatre this month is the thrilling sound of female empowerment, and it is reverberating like thunder from the heavens in the dynamically robust national tour of THE COLOR PURPLE.
Director John Doyle's Tony Award-winning reinvention of the musical - which took Broadway by storm in 2015 - rings like a clarion call to arms for every woman who's ever been violated, abused, or otherwise kept down by a man, and, on opening night, the powerful women heading the cast proved themselves more than ready to lead the charge.
Alice Walker's 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the subsequent Steven Spielberg film starring Whoopi Goldberg are the basis for the musical, which takes on a renewed directive in the face of today's #MeToo and "Time's Up" movements. And while real change happens in fits and starts, women are collectively circling up to protect their own, putting on notice anyone who still thinks domination without consent is okay.
To her credit, Marsha Norman's book doesn't shy away from the hopeless resignation in Walker's novel, or from the undercurrent of violence that ran through the Deep South during the first half of the twentieth century when the story takes place. To the credit of the rest of the musical's creative team, neither do they.
What they have done is strip down the story to its essence, consciously exposing the emotional trauma of a life with few choices and a long road to hoe without padding the production with extraneous departures.
Celie (Adrianna Hicks) is forced to marry a man who thinks she is ugly by a father (J.D Webster) who has impregnated her twice and separated her from her babies. Her sister Nettie (N'Jameh Camara) runs away to escape sexual assault by both her father and Celie's husband, Mister (Gavin Gregory). Sofia (Carrie Compere) suffers vicious consequences for merely speaking her mind within a society that demands she play by white rules meant to keep black people down. Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart) knows her physical assets will fade in time so the singer drinks to keep the good times rolling and to postpone the inevitable a little while longer.
As each woman asserts herself within the context of her own set of circumstances, the audience urges her on with ardent applause and stirring callouts of unity. It is a wondrous night at the theater to witness the strength in such connection. Go, if you've never seen this musical and go if you have. Go, if you want to feel the power of theatre to move an audience. Bottom line - just go.
The production is set on an almost bare stage, backed by three towering abstract wooden panels stacked with tear-away boards and rustic chairs used as props by the actors. The staging is often presentational, creating pictures that seem suspended in space, neither time-specific nor detail-driven. What resonates always is a powerful well of emotion underscored by some of the best musical theatre belting you'll find in town right now.
The score by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray traverses the Blues/Pop/Gospel globe of the rural South, igniting a fire of defiance in songs like Compere's ballsy "Hell, No!" and Hicks' exhilarating 'declaration of independence' showstopper, "I'm Here." Stewart lets it all hang out in a titillating gin joint performance of "Push da Button" and a trio of church ladies (Angela Birchett, Bianca Horn, and Brit West) will not be ignored. Every single woman in this cast is a powerhouse with something to prove and the amount of soul they put into their vocal work alone is a lesson in stepping up and standing out.
Contrast that with the sudden cool breeze of the title song or the tenderness of "Too Beautiful for Words" and the emotional journey in this climb out of the shadows is as satisfying as it gets.
Following its run at the Hollywood Pantages, THE COLOR PURPLE will move to Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, June 19 - 24.
THE COLOR PURPLE
May 29 - June 17, 2018
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tickets: 800-982-2787 or www.hollywoodpantages.com
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy