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The Color Purple

a Musical
CATEGORY :
by Marsha Norman M/L Brenda Russell, Allee Willis & Stephen Bray

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 1050

SHOWING : September 09, 2004 - October 17, 2004

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Based on the book by Alice Walker, this musical follows Celie as she grows from a virtual slave to her father and husband to a strong and independent woman.


CAST & CREW LIST
Fight Choreographer Jason Armit
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REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

It has its issues, but it is WELL on its way to making it BIG on Broadway!
by drdrama
Friday, October 8, 2004
5.0
I TELL A LOT OF THE STORY, SO IF FOR SOME GOD FORSAKEN REASON YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE COLOR PURPLE THE MOVIE OR READ THE BOOK (SHAME ON YOU!), THEN READ NO FURTHER...I TELL EVERYTHING IN THIS REVIEW! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK! (and ignore the typos...and it is quite long too...so take a seat, and grab some coffee)

First off, if it was an option, I would probably give "The Color Purple" a rating of 4.5, but its not so I rounded up for the shear fact that this unforgettable movie was turned into an unforgettable production in front of my very eyes. Not to say that some of the songs don't need a little tweak (the series of prayers to God by both the young and old celie are a bit...um, choppy, both vocally and dramatically) or the story in ACT I needs to be reworked, but it is WELL on its way to make a HUGE impression on Broadway.

LaChanze completely impressed me. This is the first thing of hers I have seen, though I listen to "Once on this Island" a good bit, this was my first LaChanze live performance and she shined so bright! I think all of the actors aged very well, but especially her. You found yourself ear-to-ear smiles when Celie stands up in the car belts out "I'm Free" when driving away from her "slavery" of Mister. She was like a bird at that moment, and from then on you were all smiles (and for me, LOTS of tears...at the end!)

Felicia P. Fields, who plays Sofia, is brilliant to say the least! Never a more honest, and fun character, has walked that Alliance stage. Every little details was carefully thought out, then put into action inside a completely natural and grounded character for the audience to enjoy on so many levels. Ms. Saycon Sengbloh, who played Nettie, was at first strikingly beautiful. But then she sang, and angels flew out! She was fantastic, though I think the relationship between the sisters could've been developed a whole lot more. When they were ripped apart, I felt bad...but that scene seemed to come out of NOWHERE and it just looked a bit akward. I guess that was one of the only things i was missing from the play in the first Act...the immediacy of it all. I didn't feel for Celie as much as I thought I should've. I think more attention should've been brought to the severity of Celies abuse. Mister was rough with her, but not enough. I think making a little more of how she was abused (mostly physically, though I know stage fights can be akward) but I think I would've felt more for Celie if I really saw her go through some abuse.

And Mrs. Adriane Lenox...FORGET IT! UNTOUCHABLE as SHUG...DAMN! She can sing like an angel, then sing like a vampy trampy blacktress at a Jive Bar! She has it ALL, and she showed it all! She makes the PERFECT Shug, and the perfect object of affection for Ms. Celie and you can't help but get swept up in her energy, just like Celie (and Mister!). She exudes a maturity and playfullness at the same time, while making you still like her, though her actions aren't always nice.

I think Mister, like state before, could've been a LITTLE harsher towards Celie...just to really play up Celie's abuse and to contrast with his transition to "true" manhood in his final song of repentance for his wrongs (which was an okay song, but a little anticlimactic...like maybe were should've kept Celie on stage, not IN the scene...but as a reference point for the actor...something visual to give the song, and its dramatic intent, a point of reference. Does that even make sense to anybody?).

The songs were quite good, though again...the prayers by young Celie at the beginning and the older Celie's prayer after Nettie is ripped away, are a bit vocally choppy and thus chop of the dramatic intent. Those songs could be smoothed out a little bit, so we hear a more urgentness (is that word?) to Celie, instead of a small step up from a patter song...though LaChanze still did an amazing job. "You are too beautiful for words" is a song that ties everything together and I wanted a little more out of it...it was kinda short, though at the end when we are welcomed with a HUGE smile from Celie (the first smile since being with Nettie, which is a long time in the play) you can't help but smile with her.

The two HUGE triumph's for me were the title song and the love duet "What about Love?" between Celie and Shug (that latter being the most AMAZING duet I have seen on stage). "The Color Purple" song was a FANTASTIC song that left me, and ALL of my friends, humming...and even singing some lyrics...and THAT is saying something. When you can leave a show and sing some LYRICS, it has made an impression on you. It had the right amount of power, melody line and good ol' gospel sound to make you just a cryin' mess when the song was belted at the end.

So, now we come to "What about Love?", the heartwrenching joyous ACT I finale where we not only see the two in love, but we also find out Nettie is alive (damn, I'm tearin' up now!!!). I have very strong feelings about this number cause it was powerful enough, I just think it could've gone one step further, and I think I might have the answer (or at least a good option). The song is a beautiful duet between two amazing and powerful vocalists, who also have the show backed with their amazing acting abilities...and this is the PERFECT end to ACT I. They belt out and "sing to Jesus" as I say! The only thing is after the song is over, Shug gives Celie a letter from Nettie she found and we have that piece of information to heighten the drama! I think they could go one step further and have one more blow it out verse of the "What about Love?" song (maybe with Nettie singing too...that way we get the view, both visual and dramatically, of ALL the LOVE in Celie's life...both romantic and family love.). But at least another small blow out verse of "What about Love?" between Shug and Celie would've been a HUGE dramatic build to a blackout and a crowd of people convulsing in tears on the theatre house floor.

I think the set and lighting were ABSOLUTELY breathtaking. At points, I thought I was watching a movie, with moving clouds, amazing color and seamless set changes. It was a fantastic use of the space, color and the backdrop seamed to change like it was a blue screen to project many different scenes. Just incredible!

So, final wrap up here: First act needs some pretty MAJOR revisions to get past the expositional mud that we have to drudge through to get all the information (though I know its a difficult one, cause there is A LOT of exposition in this story...but SOMEBODY's gotta do it, right?!). The first act flow needs a boost, though the end of ACT I is brilliantly acted, sung and written. THe second act moves like a freight train and you can't help but laugh, cry, smile, cry again and sing in your seats!! The actors do a great job with these characters and though you remember the movie vividly, they never make you say "well, Oprah did it this way...blah blah" it is an amazing tale of true love, struggle, family and god and it can stand on its own as "The Color Purple: the MUSICAL" and Alice Walker should be VERY proud. I wish it the best of luck as it heads to broadway, may the critics be nice and crowds be plentiful. GOD SPEED CP! [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
THE COLOR PURPLE
by doug
Sunday, September 26, 2004
3.0
Examining THE COLOR PURPLE at this stage in its development is difficult. Although certainly not yet where it needs to be to suceed in a prolonged Broadway run, the production does more right than wrong and is simply too far along in its development to allow for the one thing it really needs: a new composer. Its not that the music in THE COLOR PURPLE is bad, per se; in fact, several numbers in Act Two are quite good. The problem instead lies in the particular challenges of adapting Alice Walker's idiosyncratic novel for the stage. Perhaps writers with more theatrical know-how would have devised a stronger means of placing what is essentially a series of letters to G-d onto the lyric stage. Transparent pop ballads and gospel numbers, while sometimes hummable, do too little in the way of bringing the audience into Celie's world.

We should take a moment, however, to acknowledge that there is quite a bit to admire in THE COLOR PURPLE. There is LaChanze's lyrical, blistering performance, a lush physical production, a whopper of a story, and that joyous title tune. Indeed, one suspects that this sprawling story could find a passionate following in New York and elsewhere. To ensure that audience members give the show a fair shot, however, the creators must ensure that they remain beyond intermission.

Celie's journey- at least the latter half, after she's met Shug- works better for the musical stage than one might have imagined. The main problem, however, is that the first act is so heavy with exposition that it is both hard to follow and difficult to sit through. By the time LaChanze's Celie takes her place at the musical's center, a good fifteen minutes have passed. By that point, the audience has already been separated from the action. We see things happen to characters we might like, but we never feel attached to them. As the novel works primarily as Celie's own narrow telling of her family's story, it seems both odd and suspicious that the musical chooses to open without Celie's voice at center stage.

The creators need to have more faith in the power of the novel and focus less on the sentimental film version. They need to start the musical off differently, so that Celie begins to tell her story to the audience. It will keep the audience involved and allow the creators greater latitude in putting forth the endless stream of admittedly necessary exposition.

Act Two, however, is a much different story. Once Celie learns of Nettie's survival and journey to Africa, the musical takes wing. Brenda Russell's score is much more ecelctic (production number, gospel, African chant, some pop), and the actors do a much better job with their characters once they've begun the journey. As a broken bird finally learning to fly, LaChanze is wonderful in the second act, but needs some clarity from Marsha Norman in the first. Felicia Fields is great as the strong-willed Sofia and Adrian Lennox is a welcome presence as Shug, though a new first entrance is required. Kinsey Legg's Albert is hit-or-miss. The actor is clearly capable of playing the role, with a strong voice and genuine sweetness in the closing scenes. But he must become a much more daunting presence in the first act, or Celie's pain will remain at the surface as it does now.

Director Gary Griffin and his creators must take this note as well. Theatre is a communal experience and the PURPLE creators must never forget this. As audience members, we go to the theatre not to witness another's journey, but to take our own. If the creators of THE COLOR PURPLE want audience members to cheer the musical for years to come, they need only invite us on the journey. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Watching and Being
by Dedalus
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
4.0
When I first read Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” I was literally overwhelmed by its powerful emotional impact. Using a first-person narrative that increased in perplexity and clarity as its heroine grew and learned, it took the reader into the mind of its narrator, making us see and feel everything Celie did, sharing her pains and joys and ultimate triumph.

When Steven Spielberg’s film of the book came out, I was greatly disappointed. I thought his over-emotional direction (and its every-moment-underscored-with-syrup soundtrack) destroyed the emotional power of the story, and made all the final triumphs seem contrived. I thought at the time that the difference between the book and the movie was like the difference between going on a great vacation and watching the slides of somebody else’s vacation.

Now comes a new musical version, adapted by playwright Marsha Norman, and with gospel-flavored songs by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray. Once again, the failure to “get into the mind” of Celie distanced me in a way that made the reversals seem contrived, but this time, the score and the performances overcame the trap that Spielberg fell into. This time, the vacation analogy still applies – it’s now the difference between enjoying a vacation, and reminiscing over your own slides of that vacation – the slides evoke the feeling, but, it’s not quite the original experience.

I wasn’t overwhelmed by the score. Except for the final number, most of the songs didn’t really get me at a “gut” level, though I did enjoy them, and liked the way they developed the characters and story. The final number (the title number), though, works in every way – as a hymn to love, an anthem to empowerment, and, to be blunt, an antidote to the saccharine excess of the Spielberg film.

And congratulations also need to go to LaChanze for her gutsy and moving portrayal of Celie. She makes the road from downtrodden victim to strong woman believable, without making it look too easy. Her singing and acting were all of a piece, one flowing into the other, and creating a character you wanted by your side on whatever journey your life takes. Kingsley Leggs’ Mister, Felicia P. Fields’ Sofia, and Adriane Lenox’s Shug Avery were also effective.

Technically, the show was letter-perfect – An effective set cycled through all the various locales with aplomb. The lights, with their emphasis on autumn colors and shade tree gobos, were beautiful and effective. Most effective were the abstract cloud movements across the cyclorama to show the passage of time. This is a very good looking production.

Maybe I’m being too strict with this story. Maybe the contrivances are an inherent part that can’t be overcome without taking us directly into the minds of the characters. Maybe it’s just a case of loving a book too much for any adaptation to measure up. All I can see is, given the choice between “being” and “watching,” I’d chose “being” most of the time.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

Note: This Review is based on Sunday Afternoon's Performance (9-12-2004), which was only a preview -- changes may be made in the production before the official opening on 9-17.

[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Broadway bound? by JasonMeinhardt
Brad, I have not had a chance to see this show yet, but the buzz is that this show is bound for NY. What do you feel are its chances? What changes would have to be made? I'm just curious. I remember Aida here in Atlanta and then when I saw it in NY, the changes were quite drastic. So, just wondering.
Maybe Yes Maybe No by Dedalus
Sorry to take so long to get back to you on this comment. I'm the wrong person to ask this -- I'm the world's worst judge of what would work on Broadway and what wouldn't. I get equal enjoyment out the hummable musicals of Webber (yes, I even liked "Cats" -- at first) and the more esoteric fare of Sondheim, LaChuisa (sp?), and Brown -- in other words, I like pretty much anything that uses a song or two.

I stand by my original thoughts that the music of "Color Purple" could be more memorable, and that the structure could better get us "inside" Celie's head. But I've certainly seen far worse in NYC. (Why do I keep coming back to "Cats"? :-))
Broadway? by silentdante
Hi, thought I'd chime in. I was going to write a full review, but have found that I haven't had the time. I do agree that the songs are lacking something (I think I would describe it as "dramatic impact") and the structure (especially Act I) was a little choppy. But will it work on Broadway? I think that as it is right now, the show could open on Broadway but it wouldn't do very well (though if ticket sales for this production are any indication, it could bring in a large audience who are not as familiar with theatre). That being said, the show is not scheduled to go to New York until the 2006 season and things will almost certainly be changed. Think of how much different Aida was between Atlanta and Broadway. I believe that this show could be tweaked and edited slightly to become a very powerful show. Even as it is now, the popular response has been very positive. I have had people tell me it is the greatest show they have ever seen, and have not had one patron say a single negative thing about it (I work in the box office, in case you were wondering). So, to summarize and wrap up a wandering post: The Color Purple is a good show with the potential to be great. It may not be ready for Broadway yet, but it certainly could be by the time it gets there.
Thank you by JasonMeinhardt
Brad and "silent", thanks for the reply. Yes, I definitely recall the changes made with Aida. I saw it both here and in NY and was amazed at the difference. Of course, I am sure this show will attract a B-way "name" to headline the show, and maybe that will bring the audiences. But would love to see an Atlanta premiered show get in good with the critics too. We'll see, I guess. :)
About "Name" for NY production by doug
I noticed a mention of the producers possibly bringing in a name for the NY production. However, it does in fact appear that LaChanze will be headlining the NY production next fall. I'd be surprised if that situation changed.


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