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REVIEW: "The Color Purple"

Matthew Murphy
Carrie Compere (Sofia) and the North American tour cast of "The Color Purple."
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An appealing production of The Color Purple, now at the Thelma Gaylord, warms the theater with a story of tragedy, triumph and redemption. Then, you step outside Civic Center Music Hall and a blast of bitterly frigid air reminds you that what just occurred is more germane to musical theater than to the Jim Crow South, where the show is set. Ah, well, it was nice while it lasted.

The Color Purple was first staged in 2004. It was revived later on Broadway where it won the 2016 Tony Award for best musical revival, and John Doyle was nominated for best direction of a musical. Also directed by Doyle, this is the touring version of that production and is here in the OKC Broadway series. Doyle also designed the set and retained most of the creative team from the Broadway production (Ann Hould-Ward, costumes; Jane Cox, lighting).

The playwright Marsha Norman (book) and Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray (music and lyrics) based the show on Alice Walker’s acclaimed epistolary novel. The script closely follows the novel, which means it has to cover a lot of time (1909-1949) and territory (from Georgia to Africa and back). Thus, you see a lot of telling instead of showing.

But the script and gospel/blues/jazz/pop score are solid material brought to life by an outstanding cast. The story concerns Celie, who lived in a time and place when young African-American girls were treated more like property than human beings. And this is 50 years after the Civil War.

The excellent Adrianna Hicks displays plenty of acting and singing talent for the demanding role of Celie. Celie has been called ugly all her life, and Hicks (who is definitely not ugly) sets a stone face that matches perfectly how Celie must feel. And Hicks’s “I’m Here” ranks with the great musical theater finales.

Carla R. Stewart plays Shug Avery, a well-worn blues singer of some renown, with a sexy dissipation. You needn’t have read the novel to get the double entendres in her “Push da Button.”

As no-nonsense Sofia, Carrie Compere commands the stage in “Hell No!,” but she shows strong acting later after Sofia is beaten by white thugs following an ugly incident involving the town’s mayor’s wife. N’Jameh Camara gives a strong, moving performance has Nettie, Celie’s sister.

The show’s male characters display a variety of flaws, and the actors playing them do fine jobs. As Mister, Gavin Gregory evolves from abusive to contrite. J. Daughtry as Harpo nails the challenges of loving the strong-willed Sofia. The supporting male cast members give solid performances.

Doyle is famous for directing big, glitzy Broadway musicals in spare but revealing stagings. This show is a good example of his work. His scenic design consists of three extremely tall flats of rough-hewn wood on which several wooden chairs hang. Similar chairs figure prominently in the production, which has few but highly effective props. Spare does not mean skimpy.

Also, Doyle’s direction pays remarkable attention to detail. The actors’ body language equals the production’s verbal and musical elements.

An eight-piece combo accompanies the show. The orchestration is fleshed out slightly more than what you get in many touring productions today.

At one point, Celie avers that if God had listened to “colored” women, things in the world would be a lot different. Amen to that. The Color Purple may be what we would like to see happen more than what really happens. Nothing’s wrong with having a little hope.

The Color Purple
Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018 7:30pm to Sunday, January 7th, 2018 7:00pm
OKC Broadway
201 N. Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK 73102
405-297-2264
Prices from: $38.00

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About the Author

Larry Laneer

Larry Laneer has reviewed theater for several Oklahoma City publications.  He has...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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