BWW Review: THE COLOR PURPLE Revival at Paramount Fixes the Mediocre Original

BWW Review: THE COLOR PURPLE Revival at Paramount Fixes the Mediocre Original
Carla R. Stewart (Shug Avery),
Adrianna Hicks (Celie) and
Carrie Compere (Sofia) and the
North American tour cast of
The Color Purple.
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy, 2017.

Back in 2005 Broadway was abuzz with the arrival of a musical version of the much beloved book and movie "The Color Purple". The problem was, when it arrived it landed with a thud and not a splash. It had a decent showing running for three years and touring but never really catching fire (at least not for me). I saw the original on Broadway and in the tour and it just felt like they missed the mark not really focusing on the heart of the story and with music that felt out of place. Then in 2013 the folks at The Menier Chocolate Factory in London revived the show, scaling it down to a more intimate and streamlined piece and low and behold, it now works! And that, Dear Readers, is the gloriousness that's currently playing at the Paramount.

If you're unfamiliar with the Alice Walker novel or the subsequent 1985 film off which the show is based I feel sorry for you since it's one of the most tragically beautifully stories around centering on Celie (Adrianna Hicks) a young black woman in rural Georgia in the early 1900's. Having always been told she's ugly and not to amount to much by her Father and having already given birth to two children by 14 (also by her Father) she's sold off to Mister (Gavin Gregory) to be his wife and take care of his children. But Mister really wants Celie's smart and pretty sister Nettie (N'Jameh Camara) but Nettie runs away to save herself from Mister and her Father leaving Celie behind. The show then spans several decades as Celie grows into her own powerful woman with the help of other powerful women such as the sultry singer Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart) and the take no prisoners Sofia (Carrie Compere) each on their own stirring journeys, all the while wondering what happened to her sister.

Director John Doyle and the folks at Menier have managed to resurrect this mediocre piece and make it shine in the way it was meant to and even seemed to make the music sound much more in the era. With their minimalistic set utilizing mostly only chairs, the show now brings the focus back onto the people where it belongs and brings the power and emotion of their situations right to the forefront.

Of course, it doesn't hurt having a killer cast. In the Broadway revival they benefited from new powerhouse stars alongside returning Broadway divas and I'm happy to say that the tour boasts talents to rival those powerhouses. Gregory brings to life a character we love to hate and his breakdown in Act two is riveting. Stewart shines as the star using what she needs to in order to thrive. Compere brings down the house several times especially with her rousing rendition of "Hell No!" and her journey is heartbreaking. But it's Hicks who holds the show on her shoulders, rarely leaving stage, and her arc matches the slow build of the show itself perfectly making for terrific storytelling. You can see every ounce of joy or anguish or fear or love within her and her voice is from the gods especially as she blew the roof off the Paramount with the eleven o'clock number "I'm Here". And when backed up by this small but tight ensemble, the show manages even more power.

It's not often a show comes along that can get a redemption like this and musical theater is better for it. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the revival of "The Color Purple" at the Paramount an emotional YAY. If you were disillusioned by the original when it toured, definitely give this one a chance. And if you happened to like the original, this one should blow you away.

"The Color Purple" performs at the Paramount through July 1st. For tickets or information visit Seattle Theatre Group at www.STGpresents.org.

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From This Author Jay Irwin

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