I’ve been looking forward to seeing the National Tour of the Broadway production of “The Color Purple” since watching the performance of some of the songs on the Tony Awards. From the few songs I heard, I thought it was worth watching. I talked about the show for three years, hoping it would come to Tucson. My husband purchased a ticket for me because he knew I’d been anticipating its National Tour. I saw the stage production on Saturday, November 6, 2010 at the Tucson Music Hall and was not disappointed.
The play drew a cross section of Tucsonans; the audience included people ages 13 to 80. Some people even came dressed in purple, playing on the theme of the production. As I mingled with the crowd, I learned that some of the viewers have never read the book or watched the movie. Other audience members have previous knowledge of the story. Although I thought my daughter was too young to attend the performance, several parents came with children that were younger than 10 years old. At the end of the show, most people were pleased with “The Color Purple.”
“The Color Purple,” produced by Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Harvey Weinstein and other Broadway veterans, ran from December 2005 to February 2008. The Broadway musical received 11 2006 Tony Award nominations, winning for Best Actress. It also earned a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Show Album.
The show is based on the critically-acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize winning 1982 novel of the same name, written by Alice Walker. It tells the story Celie, a poor, Southern black woman who experienced sexual and physical abuse from her father and husband. Before the age of 14, she has two children as a result of the abuse. Both children are taken from her soon after their birth, leaving her with a hole in her heart. In addition, she’s constantly told she’s ugly and nobody will ever want her. Finally, the love of a cast of characters, including her stepson Harpo, his wife Sophia and his husband’s mistress Shug Avery, makes her realize that she is loved and valued.
People expecting to see a retelling of the 1985 Oscar-nominated movie version of “The Color Purple” starring Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover will likely be disappointed. Although the basic story is still there, the Broadway production focuses on different elements of the novel, expanding on Celie’s relationships with the people around her. The stage production also takes out the graphic violence of the novel and the movie. Instead, they are implied or take place off stage. The Church Ladies serve as The Muses or the Chorus, omniscient literary characters who fill in the blanks and move the story along.
Dayna Jarae Dantzler, who plays the heroine Celie, adds a lot of heart and humor to her performance. At the beginning of the play, she walks around with slumped shoulders, but as the story progresses, she stands more erect and her songs are more powerful. Her final song, “I’m Here,” epitomizes the strength she finally gains from love and support.
Dantzler’s performance evokes the emotion of the character; however, the show really belongs to Pam Trotter (Sophia) and Taprena Augustine (Shug Avery). Trotter and Augustine provide comic relief to the show, even in the most heart-wrenching scenes. Their voices are phenomenal. Trotter’s voice sends chills down your spine (the good kind). Her signature song, “Hell No!” vividly expresses how she’ll never let a man beat her. Augustine sings primarily blues, lounge songs. The male characters are good, but the women definitely eclipse them.
The music really rounds out “The Color Purple.” You can tell the songwriters wanted to draw different segments of the population to the play. Song styles include classic Broadway-style music, toe-tapping rhythm and blues, and gospel-inspired inspirational songs. The dance scene with the male farmhands reminds me of the dance scene in the classic movie “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
“The Color Purple” has the potential of becoming one the best Broadway musicals of the 21st century. It maintains the spirit of the novel while staying true to the Broadway tradition of show-stopping memorable tunes. It’s worth the price of a ticket. I’m happy that took two and a half hours out of my day to see it. The National Tour next heads to Olympia, Bellingham and Tacoma, Washington; Eugene, Oregon; and Salt Lake City, Utah.