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'The Color Purple' - Hallelujah! I Loved It

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That was not a late in the season hurricane that hit the Arsht Center last night.  It was the opening of the musical version of Alice Walker's 'The Color Purple.'  I need not tell you that the show is a roof raiser.  About two minutes into the show the audience started raising the roof and they never let go, drive by and you will likely notice the structural difference.

Based on Ms. Walker's novel and the masterful Steven Spielberg film, 'The Color Purple' has been turned into a glorious musical that will likely have anyone cheering near the beginning and crying and cheering at the end.  Certainly not a musical designed for children, the heart of the story is Celie's separation from her sister Nettie and the brutality Celie suffers from her forced husband known as Mister.   Mister has been having an affair for years with an enticing nightclub singer, Shug Avery.  Before long, Celie falls in love with Shug too.  As a matter of fact Shug winds up rescuing Celie from her torment and helps her become financially independent, strong instead of meek and leads to the reconciliation of Celie with her sister and Celie's children, who miraculously have been raised by Nettie in Africa.  Go ahead; just try not to cry when Celie is reunited with Nettie.

Also center stage is Sofia, the wife of Mister's son Harpo.  These two provide a great deal of the humor in the show especially in the song 'Any Little Thing.'  Sofia gets the night's show stopper with a song full of passion, anger and humor, 'Hello No!'

'The Color Purple' is a wonderful evening in the theater.  However, it is certainly not a perfect show.  It commits one of the carnal sins of musicals; on a few occasions it TELLS us about something that happened rather than showing us or singing it to us. We can tell that something is not quite right with these scenes; the trance is thrown off kilter.  It is not too long before another rousing number begins and the day is saved.

Bravo to Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray who provided the fresh, moving and 'throw your hat in the air' score.  The score is not one of the greats.  But it works, there are times it soars.

Marsha Norman had quite a task turning this book and film into a musical.  She succeeded with a gentle hand and a blunt fist when appropriate.  She accomplishes the feat of having us laugh through our tears, many times.  Excellent work, Ms. Norman.

This show is filled with a delightful chorus of townspeople, who are grand with their voices and the exciting choreography provided by Donald Byrd.  We must take a moment to mention the splendid church ladies who weave in and out of musical numbers and are welcome any time they appear on stage.  Reminiscent of the Mayor's Wife and her friends in 'The Music Man,' hats off to Kimberly Ann Harris, Virginia Ann Woodruff, and Lynette DuPree for their lovely performances.

Kenita R. Miller is a grand Celie.  She hasn't a false moment in her performance and her singing is divine.  She ages truthfully and makes us care with a passion, what happens to Celie. We cry for Celie, root for her, share in her deeply found strength, rejoice for her, and ultimately cry again. Excellent work Ms. Miller.

The show is stolen by Felicia P. Fields, who's Sofia, once seen, will never be forgotten.  Ms. Fields elicits laughter from her first appearance.  Her performance of 'Hello No!' is the gem of the show.  Sofia's story is funny, heartbreaking and ultimately funny again.  Just watch her do 'Any Little Thing' and you know you are seeing one of those magical times when perfect song meets perfect performer.  Ms. Fields received a Tony award nomination for this performance.  She is just great.

This is a musical that raises the roof, often.  It also makes us laugh and makes us cry.  I am looking forward to seeing 'The Color Purple' again, soon.

The last performance of The Color purple at the Arsht Center is Novermber 1.  It will also be playing the Broward Center April 6-18, 2010. 

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From This Author Beau Higgins

Currently spending his time between New York and Florida, Beau was born to a theatrical family in Brooklyn. He studied drama at the Lee Strasberg (read more...)