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The Color Purple

a Musical
by book - Marsha Norman; songs - Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 5288

SHOWING : June 16, 2018 - July 29, 2018



A great American novel becomes a great American musical. Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning triumph bolts joyously to life with soaring music and unforgettable characters. Celebrating the very best of the human spirit, "The Color Purple" tells the uplifting story of Celie, a woman who struggles through adversity to find strength, love and the power of her own voice.

Grady/Ensemble Skyler Brown
Adam/Ensemble Michael Champion
Sofia Kayce Grogan-Wallace
Mister Kevin Harry
Nettie Jeanette Illidge
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The Royal Hue
by playgoer
Monday, June 18, 2018
To begin with, Julie Allardyce Ray’s set design is far from original. You might call it "Father Comes Home from ‘The Crucible’" for its resemblance to two recent Actor’s Express set designs. Barn wood structures anchor the two ends of the playing space, with additional rooflines behind the two halves of the audience. In a blatant tribute to the recent Broadway revival, chairs hang from nails on the end walls. Shallow triangular platforms exist at the base of the anchor walls, with a diamond-shaped platform in the middle. It’s a handsome design with a nicely rustic feel, and it suits the largely rural locations of the script.

While house lights are almost dangerously dim, André C. Allen’s lighting design provides nice illumination for the action of the play, although moving lights can occasionally shine into the eyes of the audience. Elisabeth Cooper’s props are fine, but not extensive. The chairs are used in place of props in some instances, and actions that could conceivably use props are often mimed as part of the choreography.

Dr. L. Nyrobi N. Moss’s costumes overlap with props in the Africa segment of the script at the start of act two. Actresses dressed in costumes perfectly suited to the rural South of act one enter with baskets, and as part of the choreography strips of kente cloth are pulled from the baskets and, after being waved around, are twisted by the actresses into costume pieces. It doesn’t work. Men entering with bandoliers of kente cloth over their act one costumes look even more ridiculous. Then, when Celie starts making and selling pants, we are subjected to ill-tailored, unflattering trousers in a variety of garish colors. The final scene introduces Nettie (Jeanette Illidge), Adam (Michael Champion), and Olivia (Precious West) in African costumes, and since we didn’t see them in African costumes when they were in Africa, the sudden inconsistency in look is jarring.

What the production lacks in visual power it more than makes up for in vocal power. At least in previews, though, Angie Bryant’s sound design seems at odds with Amanda Wansa Morgan’s musical direction, with singing at the top of the actors’ lungs turned into echo-y mud. There are a lot of choral numbers, and the combined raw vocal power and amplification can become almost painfully loud.

So what redeeming qualities does the production have to justify a high rating? Quite simply, the performances. Latrice Pace is splendid as Celie, with a hangdog expression and gapped teeth that make her utterly believable as a put-upon, unattractive teen mother, yet as her character matures so does her physicality. She is totally believable at each moment in the plot, getting the audience fully behind her from the very beginning. Add in a terrific voice, and you have what is sure to be an award-winning performance.

The ensemble all do fine work, and the trio of busybodies (Stephanie Zandra, Lydia Eku, and Tetrianna Beasley) come off extremely well in the staging of director David Koté and choreographer Meredith A. Moore, as they circle the center platform and speak directly to the audience when passing by. Delightful performances also come from Kayce Grogan-Wallace as strong-willed Sofia, Lamont Hill as her weak-willed husband Harpo, Jeanette Illidge as Celie’s pretty younger sister Nettie, and Danyé Brown as squeaky-voiced Squeak.

Aside from her sister, the most important people in Celie’s life are Mister (Kevin Harry), her abusive husband, and Shug Avery (Jasmyne Hinson), a much-admired saloon singer. Mr. Harry does extremely well in his role, starting out as a handsome monster and transitioning to a more understanding man by the end. His terrific voice is suited well to his role. Ms. Hinson is merely adequate in her role, not seeming to bring as much to Shug as all the others do to their characters.

"The Color Purple" has a strong story, and with fine performances and good pacing in the Actor’s Express production, the show becomes a triumph, in spite of a less-than-perfect physical production. Chalk it up mostly to Ms. Pace, whose incandescent performance lights the stage from start to finish. She is true stage royalty. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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