The Color Purple: The Musical about Love
In 1985, a different type of movie came to audiences who weren’t sure what to make of it. The title, The Color Purple, seemed harmless enough. It had a number of huge stars such as Danny Glover, and an upcoming New York actress and future Academy Award winner Whoopi Goldberg and multi Emmy-award winning talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who only been on the air for about a year. Winfrey gathered her sources together to bring The Color Purple to stage.
The delightful and good time show begins with young sisters Celie and Nettie (Fantasia Barrino and LaToya London) playing a hand game of “Huckleberry Pie”. Celie at 14 is pregnant for the second time by her father, Pa (David Aron Damane). Their girlish game represents the end of their girlhood innocence as they will soon be forced to participate in a grown up world filled with violence. Celie, always referred to as ugly by both her mean Pa and her soon-to-be “husband” the rough and mean Mister (Rufus Bonds, Jr.) His original plan was to marry the beautiful and light skinned Nettie, Pa adamantly refuses and gives up Celie instead.
Poor girl is thrown to him like yesterday’s garbage and immediately goes into work mode: cleans the house, do the laundry and the cooking and taking care of Mister’s unruly children. Soon Nettie temporarily moves in because she can’t take any more of Pa’s nonsense. That move only lasts about a minute because as expected Mister comes in and threatens to separate the sisters.
It seems that Celie left one plantation for another with no better results. One of her mainstay friends who possess an unbelievable strength and admiration is Sofia (Felicia P. Fields), the role Winfrey originated in the Spielberg movie. Sofia is married to Harpo (the handsome and talented Stu James who is Mister’s son. Sofia’s strong personality overshadows Harpo’s quietness, but the two have a genuine chemistry both sexually and romantically that makes it such a breathe of fresh air, when all the message you get is beat your woman until she comes understands who’s king.
In fact, that’s what Mister advises his son and when he does, Sofia gives off a hearty good laugh that Harpo would even attempt such a wild notion. He’s lucky he doesn’t get a beat down. But he does end up with a very overt bruise on his cheek. Sofia indirectly helps Celie regain, develop and maintain strength to stand up to Mister. Celie’s courage is severely tested when Mister’s former gregarious ex-girlfriend Shug Avery (Angela Robinson) comes to town and stays with them. After believing Nettie died at the missionary where she went to live after getting thrown out of Pa’s, Celie treats Shug as a surrogate sister, welcoming her with open arms. She feeds Shug, washes her body and listens to her wild stories. This is the first time Celie discovers that Mister’s name is Albert. She never knew all this time living with the man what his first name was. Shug is the only one to show Celie some human warmth and kindness. The two share a tender kiss that sparks life back into Celie.
Shug is the only one brave enough who can put Albert in his place. It soon becomes a non-guilty pleasure to see Celie laugh inwardly on Albert’s humiliation. After all the pain and grief he’s put Celie through, now it’s her who gets the pleasure out of watching him squirm like worm escaping his captor. Years have past and still no word from Nettie. Celie is sure her sister’s dead and some how continues to live in harsh conditions.
Fantasia lays is out as the tortured heroine whose faith God keeps her grounded and sane is wonderful as Celie. She laid out her emotions for everyone to see. The pain she reveals will cause sadness and shed tears as an audience member. It’s hard not feel sorry for Celie, not because of her horrendous situation, which is a given, but it would be heartbreaking that she endured the wrath of a man with icicles for veins and not get her reward at the end. The former and third season winner from American Idol has done well by avoiding het pitfalls of her comrades. She created a Celie all her own. Timid, shy, frightful in the beginning and by the end a stronger, loving, smarter and a proud business owner. As Fantasia sang, “I’m Here.”
Outstanding performances by Bonds, Jr. as the evil Mister and Angela Robinson as the non-apologetic Shug Avery. It takes a lot of guts to play such a vile character and Bonds, Jr. has a lot of it. Imagine playing a character that’s so evil toward the woman he ended up with and not the one he wanted to share his life with. That’s what happened with Albert. After losing his first wife to her lover, Albert began creeping around for Nettie. Her Pa, to quote Miss Sofia, said “Hell No!” and gave him Celie. When he hears that his ex-girlfriend Shug Avery is coming, his demeanor temporarily changes. Bonds, Jr. swiftly turn from cad to charmer and are even nicer to Celie. Bonds, Jr. handsome good looks makes it impossible to believe that he can be that much of an ass to anyone but he stands stoically and gives it his all and succeeds. As an audience member, you hate the man. Fields is a joy to watch as Miss Sofia.
Emmy-award winner Oprah Winfrey played her in the 1985 movie with same guts and non-foolishness. As she told Celie “I loves Harpo, God knows I do. But I'll kill him dead 'fo I let him beat me.” That line from the movie sums up Sofia. A stand out favorite are the stylishly dressed church ladies, Lynette Dupree (Jarene), Virginia Ann Woodruff (Doris) and Kimberley Ann Harris (Doris) serving as the Greek chorus advising the audience what will happen if a character takes the wrong path. It’s cute how they all walk together at the same time so as to not break the power of three, like the Charmed ones.
The music is the most heartfelt and exhilarating form beginning to end. Grammy-nominated Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray arranged alot of the memorable, amusing and melancholic music. From the heartfelt “Somebody Gonna Love You” sung by broken down Celie to the memorable “Hell No!” by Sofia (Felicia P. Fields) and her entourage. Russell and the gang may have concocted a new woman’s anthem for 2010. Shug sings the title of the play with has much heart and concern as possible. The songs grab you from the heart and stick with you for a good time. The deepest felt song is definitely African Homeland” where Celie re-connects with her family.
The combination of contemporary jazz, be-bop and songs from the motherland make a perfect hodge podge of African American music. Nothing is left out. Music director Sheilah Walker and her orchestra captured every moment under h e leadership. She picked the right pitch and tone and overall loudness or softness with the greatest of ease. Choreographer Donald Byrd added pure magic in his movements. Such quickness and ease in one song and such verve and high octane energy in the next. Such fluidity is pure geniuses.
Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Color Purple: The Musical about Love runs Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. wraps up and Sunday February 28 7 at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Pantages Theatre located at 6233 Hollywood Blvd. Tickets available online at www.broadwayla.org or by phone 800-982-2787 or at the Pantages Box Office open daily at 10 a.m.