The Color Purple a Smash at SpeakEasy
A Riveting Poignant Musical of Hope and Deserved Joy
By: Mark Favermann - Jan 12, 2014
The Color Purple
By Marsha Norman
Based upon the novel written by Alice Walker and the Warner Bros./Amblin Entertainment Motion Picture
Directed by Paul Daigneault
Music and Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray
Production Staff: CHRISTIAN BUFFORD (Choreographer), NICHOLAS JAMES CONNELL (Musical Director), ERIK FOX (Co-Lighting Designer), MEGAN F. KINNEEN (Props Supervisor), JENNA McFARLAND LORD (Scenic Designer), KAREN PERLOW (Lighting Design), ELISABETTA POLITO (Costume Designer) and DAVID REIFFEL (Sound Designer)
Cast: JYE'L ANCRUM (Young Harpo/Young Adam/Ensemble), KYMYRA J. ANDERSON-WOLF (Young Celie/Young Olivia/Chief's Daughter). KIRA COWAN (Older Olivia/Ensemble), MATTHEWS D. (Young Harpo/Young Adam/Ensemble), ANICH D'JAE (Squeak/Darlene), JARED DIXON (Harpo), AKIAH DOYLE (Young Celie/Young Olivia/Chief's Daughter) XIKIYAH FIRMIN (Young Nettie/Mister's Daughter/Chief's Daughter), TERRELL FOSTER-JAMES (Young Man/Ensemble, CRYSTIN GILMORE (Shug Avery), ALIA HODGE (Ensemble), LOVELY HOFFMAN (Celie), VALERIE HOUSTON (Sofia), DAVID JILES, JR. (Pa/Grady/Ensemble), JAIME MCLAURIN (Young Nettie/Henrietta/Mister's Daughter/Chief's Daughter), CLIFF ODLE (Ol' Mister/Preacher/Ensemble), MAURICE EMMANUEL PARENT (Mister), DEBORAH PIERRE (Ensemble/Celie Understudy), AARON MICHAEL RAY (Chief/Buster/Ensemble), CAROLYN SAXON (Doris/Church Soloist/Ensemble), KELTON WASHINGTON (Prison Guard/Older Adam/Ensemble), TAYLOR WASHINGTON (Jarene/Daisy/Ensemble) and AUBIN WISE (Nettie)
SpeakEasy Theatre Company
Boston Center for the Arts
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Note: The Color Purple contains adult themes and brief nudity.
January 10 through February 8, 2014
Based on the novel by Alice Walker and the Warner Brothers/Amblin film, The Color Purple at The SpeakEasy Stage Company is a smash hit. With no weak performances and wonderful orchestration, it is musical theatre at its very best.
Eloquently adapted by Marsha Norman, this production was brilliantly directed by Paul Daigneault. The wonderful music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray are equal parts gospel, jazz, African tribal chants and juke joint rhythm and blues. The music becomes the atmosphere.
The story begins with two little girls playing a Miss Mac-Mac handclapping game on the branch of a giant oak tree. Is this the Tree of Life? They are two joyful sisters named Celie and Nettie who are also best friends. Accompanied by gospel singers, the next scene is in a church with Celie heavily pregnant. She goes into labor during the service.
Her newborn daughter is taken away by her "Pa," another child was taken earlier and she is sold to a stern widower, Mister, when she is 14 to serve his domestic needs. Nettie is sent away by Mister when she thwarts his advances. Celie is left totally alone to deal with the continuous abuse of Mister.
Eventually, Shug Avery , a bawdy jazz singer and sexy lady of questionable reputation comes to visit Mister. She befriends Celie and gives her the strength to eventually standup to Mister. Along the way, Mister's son Harpo grows up and marries the strong willed Sofia when she becomes pregnant with his child.
To make an independent living, Harpo opens a juke joint. Shug's performances give the joint crowd appeal. Through various problems and turmoil, the narrative develops subplots and various other characters move in and out of the story. Each is superb.
Eventually, Celie finds contentment as well as family and personal success. Her character is brilliantly song and acted by Lovely Hoffman. She makes us literally feel for her troubles and triumphs.
Other standouts in a totally wonderful cast are Aubin Wise as a beautiful and kind Nettie, Crystin Gilmore as the sexy and entertaining yet heart of gold Shug Avery, Valerie Houston as a powerful untamable presence Sofia, Maurice Emmanuel Parent as hardass Mister and Jared Dixon as a very human and humane Harpo.
The total ensemble sings, dances and acts creating a true theatrical event of charm and quality. With bursting energy and talent, the performers are a celebration of music and story.
Stagecraft is a major part of the brilliance of the show. The set works extremely well. It is spare yet imaginatively flexible. Set Designer Jenna McFarland Lord has created a spatial environment that allows the story to seamlessly flow. It is enhanced by Karen Perlow's sensitive lighting design.
Music and sound design are operatically combined by Music Director Nicholas James Connell and Sound Designer David Reiffel. Here the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
This is a very human story of degradation, personal suffering and eventual triumphant joy. The Color Purple is a brilliant entertainment. It is musical theatre at its best.