Let me be clear: The Color Purple is extraordinary.
It is heartbreaking. It is hilarious. It is joyful. It is powerful. It is extraordinary.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Alice Walker and the 1986 film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey (The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and was famously snubbed, earning zero wins.), The Color Purple was adapted for the stage by Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.
The Color Purple originally ran on Broadway from 2005 to 2008, earning 11 Tony nominations. The revival ran on Broadway from 2015 to 2017 and garnered two 2016 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actress in a Musical (Cynthia Erivo). Cast members from the Broadway revival lead the touring company, including Adrianna Hicks (Aladdin, Sister Act – Germany) as Celie, Carla R. Stewart (Ghost – National Tour, Rent – Regional) as Shug Avery and Carrie Compere (Holler If You Hear Me, Shrek the Musical – National Tour) as Sofia.
Set in rural Georgia in the 1930s, the story focuses on the lives of African American women and their low position in American social culture. Only one generation removed from slavery, Celie has suffered abuse from men her whole life. She is routinely beaten and raped by her supposed father with whom she has two children during her adolescence and whom he gives away. He later gives Celie away to a local farmer known as Mister. Mister wants to marry Celie’s beautiful younger sister, Nettie, but settles for Celie to raise his children (by another woman), keep his household and tend to his farm. He continues the cycle of beatings and rape. Nettie manages to escape a similar fate by getting her education and becoming a missionary in Africa. The separation of the sisters and the communication freeze imposed by Mister just adds to cruelty and isolation of Celie’s existence.
Mister has always been in love with the glamorous Shug Avery, a blues singer, who may or may not be the mother of his children. When Shug returns to town after an extended absence, she is broken in mind and body. Heaping yet another indignity upon Celie, he brings Shug home. Celie is expected to tend to Shug’s needs and an unlikely friendship…and eventually love…blossoms between the women.
Drawing from the strength and love she finds in the women in her life: Nettie, Shug and her stepdaughter-in-law, Sofia, Celie begins to find her voice and breaks the cycle of abuse.
The songs brilliantly showcase the talented voices. Carrie Compere as Sofia steals nearly every scene she is in and her songs “Hell No!” and “Any Little Thing” are a delight. Carla R. Stewart as Shug Avery brings down the house in “Push Da Button” and brings a tear or two in “Too Beautiful for Words.” Adrianna Hicks as Celie, in addition to her incredible singing throughout the show (especially “I’m Here” and “What About Love?”) managed to transform her gorgeous self into a mousy, intimidated and down-trodden child that blossoms into a beautiful, confident woman. The metamorphosis is remarkable.
This company has worked together for a long time on this creation and it is absolutely evident. It is a very special show.
The Color Purple runs through July 29 at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Pkwy).
Should I see this? YES. YES. YES.