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The Color Purple: A Joyful Noise at the Academy

 Nominated for eleven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, The Color Purple opened on December 1, 2006 at the Broadway Theatre where it ran for over two record-breaking years.  It is based on the classic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker and the moving film by Steven Spielberg.  It is the unforgettable and inspiring story of a woman named Celie, who finds the strength to triumph over adversity, and discover her unique voice in the world.  With a joyous Grammy-nominated score featuring gospel, jazz, pop and the blues, The Color Purple is about hope and the healing power of love. 

The story line of The Color Purple is anchored in a poor, rural black community during the first half of the 20th Century covering the years from 1909 to 1949.  Young Celie is impregnated twice by her father, violently separated from her beloved sister, Nettie, ridiculed by the community; and for decades brutalized by a husband who treat her as chattel. It is a story of victory and redemption, centered around Celie and a constellation of strong women; Nettie, her quiet and smart sister; the audacious Shug Avery and Sofia, the wife of Harpo who wears her womanhood like armor. By the end of the story, Celie has found her voice and is her own woman.

As with the Broadway production, the first America tour of The Color Purple is directed by Gary Griffin. The touring cast is vibrant and winning. Jeanette Bayardelle plays Celie with a pure heart that transforms from barely surviving to glorious triumph. The role of Nettie was played by Mariama Whyte at the Philadelphia opening. Whyte possess the strength and innocence the character calls for. Felicia P. Fields, Tony nominated for her portrayal of Sophia in The Color Purple on Broadway, Fields brings that same strength and soulful comedic moments to this production.  Rufus Bonds, Jr. is commanding and despicable as "Mister". Angela Robinson plays a sassy Shug Avery with a poignant heart. 

There are several touching moments in this adaptation such as when Celie discovers love through the kindness of Shug who befriends her and Celie's unswerving belief in her sister's existence.  Much needed comic relief is delivered by the three gossiping church ladies who mingle throughout scenes. The dance numbers are compatible with the material and never overwhelm the seriousness of the plot. 

The production sets are uncomplicated and neither add or take away from the show's overall theme. The score, while not the most memorable, is well delivered by the cast. Song highlights include a touching "What About Love?" sung by Celie and Shug; a robust "Hell No" sung by Sophia and a rousing "Miss Celie's Pants" sung by all the women.  The strength of this musical lies in the inspiring novel written by Alice Walker; a story of relationships, faith and redemption.  

The Color Purple plays at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia Pa. through July 13.

For tickets and information call 215.731.3333 or visit

Photo One: Jeannette Bayardelle (Celie) and LaToya London (Nettie) 

Photo Two: The Church Ladies (from left) Lynette DuPree, Virginia Ann Woodruff, Kimberly Ann Harris.  

Photos by Paul Kolnik

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