Hewing closely to the book by Alice Walker—and for many, the Oprah movie too—THE COLOR PURPLE tells the story of hardships and abuse suffered by a young African-American woman under thumb of brutal men, in a backdrop of unbound cruelty from White oppressors that sometimes moves center stage.
The popularity of the book and movie alone give this production likely blockbuster status as it wends its way across America. More, judging from the appreciative hoots and audience clapping every time one of the female characters in this story shouts a permutation of “Hell No!”, this revived Broadway musical ( Book by Marsha Norman; Music and Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray) seems to be striking a deep chord with women who have just had ENOUGH. Perhaps the #HellNo! shouts of THE COLOR PURPLE characters have newfound resonance in our #MeToo times.
The story begins with the cast emerging from three miles-high feeling clapboard panels of scrap wood dotted with wooden chairs signaling a hardscrabble life. The import of the church and being a believer is established quickly as the setting moves in and out of a church service. The wonders of creation—including the amazing color purple—and struggles to keep the faith or to find redemption are the religious themes baked into this story throughout, culminating in a final “Amen”. On a more secular level, it is a story of seeking love and finding it. Love in this story has many forms— between sisters, husband and wife, older woman and younger man, lesbian, and most of all, the struggle for self-love which we watch and hear the main character Celie (played by Adrianna Hicks) pronounce she has attained with her near finale song I’m Here.
Broadway in Chicago brings classic story to Chicago audiences
Though it’s difficult to say—at least for this writer—which, if any, songs in this musical have the stuff of classics, there is no weak link vocally or musically. These are powerhouse voices—seventeen en toto—that can trick you into thinking they are dozens more. Similarly, the orchestra has only eight musicians, though you’d think it was CSO-sized. Expect to be thrilled by Gospel sounds, soft love songs, comic romps, and tunes affording memorable grinding hips (Direction and Musical Staging, John Doyle).
There are also no weak links acting-wise. That said, from this writer’s viewpoint, the performances by Carrie Compere as the poster woman of #HellNo! sentiments and Gavin Gregory as the cruel whip-wielding Mister turned repentant are standouts worthy of respective Brava! and Bravo! shouts.
If you have read the book you too will likely appreciate this reminder of the richness of its story. If you are a newbie, this writer guesses you might be a bit lost, especially at the outset. The tale telling seems to get better and clearer as the story unfolds. The minimal set might pack well and help this production sweep across the country, but for this writer, it added nothing to the production and often seemed to get in its way.
Expect to walk home with an energized #HellNo! lilt in your step.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Adrianna Hicks, Carla R. Stewart, Carrie Compere, Gavin Gregory, N’Jameh Camara J. Daughtry, Darnell Abraham, Amar Atkins, Kyle E. Baird, Angela Birchett, Erica Durham, Bianca Horn, Jamal James, Mekhai Lee, Gabrielle Reid, C.E. Smith, Will T. Travis, Nyla Watson, J.D. Webster, Brit West, and Nikisha Williams.
Thru July 29
Tuesdays at 7:30PM
Wednesdays at 7:30PM (additional performance on July 25 at 2PM)
Thursdays at 7:30PM
Fridays at 7:30PM
Saturdays at 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Sundays at 2:00PM (additional performance on July 22 at 7:30PM)
50 East Congress
Director John Doyle; costumes by Ann Hould-Ward; lighting by Jane Cox; sound by Dan Moses Schreier; and wig & hair design by Charles G. LaPointe.
Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000 and online at the Broadway in Chicago website.
PHOTOS: COURTESY OF BROADWAY IN CHICAGO
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago