Guest post by Pat Reardon.
Alice Walker’s classic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was well known even before the release of the beloved film by Steven Spielberg. This incredible saga of the personal journey of the much-abused Celie (Dana Jarae Dantzler) from an emotionally and physically battered waif to a confident and loving woman spans four decades and covers a gamut of emotions. Celie’s passionate and enduring love for her sister Nettie (Traci Allen) is the constant that shepherds Celie’s life passage from abject darkness to a glorious and fulfilled conclusion.
The Color Purple is a beautiful production that demonstrates how the power of the sisterhood of women triumphs to overcome life’s incredible tragedies. Her abusive father (Mark Hall) and her sadistic husband (Edward C. Smith) seemingly mark Celie’s crushed spirit permanently. But the women in her life, from her inimitable daughter-in-law, Sofia (Pam Trotter), to the vibrant Shug Avery (Taprena Augustine), a woman loved by all including Celie, bond together and share their strength and power to overcome life’s most crushing moments.
Dantzler’s Celie is touching and compelling as she transforms herself over the course of the production. She is ably assisted by Traci Allen’s sweet and illusive Nettie, ever in Celie’s mind. But the true power-houses of the evening are Pam Trotter whose force-of-nature Sofia jumps out at the audience with incredible determination along with Augustine’s Shug Avery, the sexy, vampish nightclub singer whose passion for the pleasures of the world save Celie from a life of dejection. Lee Edward Colston II’s plays Ceile’s son-in-law Harpo to a doltish fault and provides much needed comic relief to the production. Smith’s Mister is perfectly played. He does a masterful job morphing between brutal wife beater, unrequited lover and regretful ex-spouse. The most engaging players are the three “Church Ladies’ that appear throughout the production to narrate the story and serve as a Greek chorus guiding us along our way as their Sunday hats bob up and down along with their gossip.
The very entertaining music is a mélange of show tune, gospel, blues and pop. And the performer’s talents are well matched to the demands of the production. Shug’s sexy, pulsating “Push da Button” brings the house down.
Donald Byrd’s impressive, vibrant choreography is stunningly delivered by the ensemble. The second act’s African scenes are a bit too lengthily and slightly overdone, more “Lion King” than the production needed. But the simple African folk art background helps to bring the scenes bit closer to the rest of the performance.
The set’s well-designed visuals plunge the audience into the early 20th Century rural south. And, the costumes are spot-on with the character of the time and place. This is an extremely well done production, with music, choreography, sets, costumes and performances as good as you will see on Broadway and well deserving of the numerous Emmy nominations that it received. The Color Purple is destined to become a musical classic.
The Color Purple
Broadway San Jose, San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
Directed by Gary Griffin
Choreographed by Donald Byrd
Book by Marsha Norman
Music and Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray
Starring Dayna Jarae Dantzler, Traci Allen, Edward C. Smith, Lee Edward Colston II, Pam Trotter and Taprena Augustine