Oprah Presents Color Purple

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The play evokes as much emotion as the book and the film do especially when Celie is separated from her sister Nettie and later reunited with her and Celie’s children who she had presumed dead. I won’t give too much away by saying that Mister finds redemption and that the play culminates on a triumphant high with the reprise of the title song served up earlier by Shug Avery. A glaring omission from the film version is Shug’s redemption and ultimate reunion with her estranged father, the Preacher.

Run, don’t walk to see the new Broadway musical, Oprah Winfrey’s The Color Purple at the Broadway Theater at 53rd Street in Manhattan. This fine adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, combines her excellent literary style with Steven Spielberg’s filmic vision and interpretation to create an extraordinary stage production.

The play stars LaChanze, appropriately cast as Celie (played by Whoopi Goldberg in the movie version). Slight in stature, this actress who is no stranger to the New York stage, has a major presence with her strong vocals and gestures when she’s on stage which is most of the time. Celie “marries� Mister (Kingsley Leggs) having been given to him by her evil stepfather. Her cruel spouse beats and mistreats her forcing her to, not only tend to the household and field chores, but to raise his three unruly children when she is but a child herself.

Celie goes kicking and screaming with Mister so that her sister, Nettie, (aptly portrayed in the performance I saw by Jeanette I. Bayardelle) who he much prefers, can continue with her studies and become a teacher. Nettie is the only light in Celie’s otherwise dismal life and when she shuns Mister’s advances she is literally ripped from Celie’s arms and kicked to the curb.

Another standout in the cast is Chicago native Felicia B. Fields who plays Sofia, the role played by Oprah in the film. As excellent as Ms. Winfrey was in this her first acting gig, Ms. Fields brings her own spin to the character who marries Mister’s son, Harpo (Brandon Victor Dixon). She delivers the now infamous “You told Harpo to beat me…� speech followed by a rousing song (“Hell No!�) with gusto causing the audience and her three background singers (The Sisters) to co-sign on her defiance. Later, Fields performs a provocative duet with her husband in the hilarious number “Any Little Thing.�

Not to be overlooked is the deliciously vampish Shug Avery (Elisabeth Withers-Mendes), the object of Mister’s desire who wreaks havoc on the townspeople and brings love, happiness and misery to both Celie and Mister.

The play evokes as much emotion as the book and the film do especially when Celie is separated from her sister Nettie and later reunited with her and Celie’s children who she had presumed dead. I won’t give too much away by saying that Mister finds redemption and that the play culminates on a triumphant high with the reprise of the title song served up earlier by Shug Avery. A glaring omission from the film version is Shug’s redemption and ultimate reunion with her estranged father, the Preacher. Though I fully expected to see this electrifying church scene in the play, my feeling is that it was deleted because this production is primarily about Celie, her tribulations and triumphs.

Other scenes omitted from this production that perhaps only Color Purple purists might miss are Celie and Nettie’s patty-cake game (they often played this hand-clapping game as children) when they see each other for the first time upon Nettie’s return from Africa with her children; and the first utterances of the kids, now all grown up, when they finally meet their mother. We never get to hear from the children in this production. These are such emotional scenes in the film that I tear up every time I see it.

One can’t say enough about the staging of this wonderful production directed by Gary Griffin and adapted for the stage by Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winner Marsha Norman. The costumes are alluring (Paul Tazewell) especially the African scenes with their vibrant blues. The lighting (Brian MacDevitt) and set design (John Lee Beatty) come together perfectly to expound on the show’s title without over doing it.

The Color Purple represents a “full circle moment� for Oprah Winfrey to use her own words having made her acting debut in the screen version and now being the title producer of the Broadway production. My hat goes off to all the producers who had the foresight to invest in this worthwhile project, and three cheers for the excellent cast and crew. The music by composers/lyricists Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, is rich and soul-stirring under the baton of the renowned musical director Linda Twine and the talented associate conductor Joseph Joubert. And let’s not leave out the excellent choreography by famed choreographer Donald Byrd.

Are you still reading this review? Get thee to a phone immediately and call Telecharge at (212) 239.6200 or for preferred seating call (212) 239-2980. Performances are Tuesdays through Sundays at the Broadway Theatre located at 1681 Broadway in New York City. Visit their website at www.colorpurple.com. Also visit PR and marketing professional Celeste Bateman’s site on www.celestebateman.com

*****
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