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Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents THE COLOR PURPLE in A Masterpiece Of Transcendent Theatre

The production, starring Andrea Fleming, runs through May 1st in The Phoenix Theatre Company’s Hormel Theatre.

Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents THE COLOR PURPLE in A Masterpiece Of Transcendent Theatre

To understand THE COLOR PURPLE, in all its adaptations from book to film to stage, one must connect, not solely with the history of African-Americans, but also with the divinely inspired message of its author. When asked in a 2015 Huffington Post interview about her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Alice Walker responded as follows:

"What I would like people to understand when they read The Color Purple, is that there are all these terrible things that can actually happen to us, and yet life is so incredibly magical and abundant and present that we can still be very happy... that the beauty of nature is what reminds us of what is divine, I mean, that we're already in heaven, really. It's just that we haven't noticed it, and we've been diverted by people who want us to believe whatever it is they are basically selling us. But if you pass by the color purple in a field and you don't even notice it, why should you even be here on the planet? I mean, you should notice what is here, because it is wonderful and amazing and loves you back by its beauty and by its fragrance or however it can love you back."

"I want it to stand as an expression of the possibility of our absolute freedom. And especially our spiritual freedom. Because until the spirit is free it's very hard to free any other part. And we desperately need to be freed from so many shackles."

Walker's intention is echoed in Shug Avery's conversation with Celie, whose twenty-five-year journey to self-realization and empowerment, is chronicled in the musical: "It pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it."

Inspired by the novel, Marsha Norman ('night, Mother, The Secret Garden, The Bridges of Madison County) wrote the book for the award-winning play, with music and lyrics by Stephen Bray, Allee Wills and Brenda Russell.

Norman's musical captures the essence of Walker's vision, and, in The Phoenix Theatre Company's current production of THE COLOR PURPLE, director Daryl Brooks has crafted a masterpiece of transcendent theatre that embodies all the pain and spirit of a Gospel-sustained and resilient community and one of its children.

Set with Douglas Clarke's backdrop of textured drapes and rustic platforms and Ashton Corey's radiant lighting, an amazing ensemble of nineteen actors populates the rural Georgia community where Celie's journey unwinds over the course of thirty-five years. Kevin White's six-man orchestra is outstanding, complementing the rich and rhythmic call-and-response of the ensemble and providing the beat to Rueben D. Echoles's muscular choreography.

At the center of the ensemble is Andrea Fleming whose portrayal of Celie rises to that of a dazzling bravura performance. She is magnificent in the role, measuring the evolution of her character and her voice until, in the moment of her jubilant self-affirmation (I'm Here), her powerhouse vocals rise heavenward and lift the audience off their seats.

As she evolves from a teenager, having borne and surrendered two babies and then been traded by her step-father (A.D. Weaver) into an abusive marriage with Mister (Noah Lee Hayes), to an independent seamstress, Fleming blossoms into a force of nature.

Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents THE COLOR PURPLE in A Masterpiece Of Transcendent Theatre

In a narrative that is steeped in the essence of family, Celie's longing to be reunited with her sister Nettie (Jonice Bernard), a bond severed by time and the space of an ocean, is part of a larger story of diaspora. That story becomes manifest as the stage turns to Africa and is adorned by the resplendent hues of also-costume-designer Echoles's dashikis.

Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents THE COLOR PURPLE in A Masterpiece Of Transcendent Theatre

So too do the other residents of Celie's community blossom ~ transforming over time, the lives of each interconnected with and being impacted by the other. Among them, Mister's son Harpo (Blu), his indomitable wife Sofia (Shaunice Maudlyn Alexander), and his mistress Squeak (Jari Haile).

If Ms. Fleming's force of nature has a counterpart, it is in the brilliant performance by Meka King as Shug Avery, the flamboyant one-time mistress to Mister whose endearing relationship with Celie is a portal to Celie's self-actualization.

The fact of the matter is that, for every performer listed in this review ~ indeed, for every member of this sterling company ~ mere superlatives don't suffice. This is a production of extraordinary power, vitality, and importance. Unequivocally, a must-see before it closes on May 1st.

THE COLOR PURPLE runs through May 1st in The Phoenix Theatre Company's Hormel Theatre. (Run time ~ 2 hours, 10 minutes plus 15-minute intermission)

The Phoenix Theatre Company ~ 1825 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ ~ ~ 602-254-2151

Photo credit to Reg Madison Photography

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From This Author - Herbert Paine

Herb Paine ~ Herb has served as Senior Contributing Editor and lead reviewer for BWW's Phoenix Metro Region since 2014. He has been acclaimed as BEST THEATRE CRITIC by PHOENIX magazin... (read more about this author)

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