BWW Reviews: Big, Beautiful, Breathtaking and Bold - THE COLOR PURPLE Soars at Virginia Rep

BWW Reviews: Big, Beautiful, Breathtaking and Bold - THE COLOR PURPLE Soars at Virginia Rep

It has taken more than two years to bring THE COLOR PURPLE to Virginia Repertory Theatre, and the ambitious final production of the 2013-2014 season is absolutely stunning and every bit worth the wait. PURPLE is a convergence of some of Richmond's finest performers and creative collaborators, and is as close to a Broadway performance as it gets.

Director Chase Kniffen pulls out all the stops to bring the unforgettable characters in Alice Walker's soul-stirring novel to life. Under Ben Miller's top-drawer musical direction and his first-rate band, the powerful cast shows what it means to make a joyful noise. Leslie Owens-Harrington's choreography blends jazz, swing time and an unforgettable African tribal dance. Sue Griffin's costumes are genuine and fitting of Walker's Pulitzer-winning story.

Joe Doran's perfect light design fuses yellows, blues, purples, reds and whites, and uses exacting spotlighting and lanterns to shade and highlight Ron Keller's gorgeous set. Like a hideaway bed, Keller's rustic patchwork-quilt-set is adaptable and highly imaginative. Homely walls pull out to reveal a club, a store or a bathroom. Seemingly scattered doors adorned to walls become background props or slide away to reveal windows.

Each of the 32 cast members deserves accolades for the heart, soul and sheer talent poured into this flawless production. Katrinah Carol Lewis is sensational in the role of Nettie; Ciara McMillian is hilarious as Squeak; Josh Marin's Harpo has energy and courage; Desiree Roots Centeio is electrifying as Sofia; Thomas Nowlin's Ol' Mister has passion. A trio of church ladies, played by Stephanie Hill, Amanda Montague and Shalimar Hickman Fields, steals laughs with each appearance, and Karla Brown's Church Soloist elicits emotion with a powerful voice.

As Mister, Jerold Solomon has the acting chops to take a character to both ends of the spectrum, villain and valiant, and he has a marvelous voice to boot. As Shug Avery, musical theatre newcomer Carolyn Minor Daughtry proves that she belongs in this Broadway-caliber production. Daughtry leads the entire cast in the first act showstopper, "Push Da Button", with the kind of stage presence it takes years to hone.

Felicia Curry handles the role of Celie with honesty and unbridled, raw emotion. A true show-stopping moment, her performance of "I'm Here" rouses applause before reaching its final bars. Go watch Fantasia's Tony performance of the song and then go watch Curry reduce that to an amateur cabaret act.

If the opening night audience is any indication, THE COLOR PURPLE is on its way to a hugely successful run at the Sara Belle and Neil November Theatre on Broad Street. PURPLE runs through August 3. Don't miss this remarkable production. Purchase tickets now!

Photo credit: Aaron Sutten

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