It’s a strange thing, my theater viewing this summer. Normally I would have seen more shows than I did, but we’ll just mention the baby again as a reason why the Boy and I aren’t going out and seeing more – especially evening performances. But I’m thinking now of the last show I saw – Ain’t Too Proud, the Temptations musical which is still touring and tweaking in anticipation of its Broadway debut, and this show – The Color Purple, which is apparently at the end of it’s national tour following its Broadway revival. That’s right – The Color Purple originated on Broadway back in 2005, toured nationally THREE TIMES, was revived on the great white way, and is finishing up its national tour before the show begins international runs.
So I’m not sure what to say about it that is new, or useful, or creative. The chances of any of my readers going to see a production in South Africa, in the Netherlands or in Leicester or Birmingham is unlikely. And while I had originally planned on this post going up on Friday, I let my conference last week get in the way of my posting schedule and managed to shift everything back on my editorial calendar by a day, leaving us here, with the last curtain fallen on the Kennedy Center stop last night. And that makes me a little sad. It feels like making a cake, showing you the cake, telling you how good the cake was, and then not giving you a recipe or a location in which you can purchase said cake. Is it an asshole move? I don’t know – you tell me.
But I feel like I can’t not talk about this show. I managed to get through life so far and have not read the original Pulitzer-prize winning book, nor have I seen the Steven Spielberg-directed movie which was nominated for a boatload of Oscars, even if it didn’t win any. I had the vaguest sense of what the story was – of a young woman named Celie who is raped repeatedly by her father and forced to give up her babies. But beyond that, this was all new to me. And while yes, the story was as grim as the sentence preceding this one would lead you to believe, there is a lot of strength and joy in the story as well since it has a happy ending. What’s also interesting is that I believe the revival tried to bring out more of the sexual relationship between Shug and Celie that was apparently downplayed in both the movie and the original version of the musical (don’t quote me on the original run though – I think I read about it in an article elsewhere that I can’t find right now).
The performances were all around terrific, with standouts being Adrianna Hicks as Celie and Carrie Compere as Sofia. Hicks’ Celie is this grim faced girl for most of the show – she holds her mouth in a perpetual scowl and frown that is appropriate for a hard life with little joy. And yet, at the end of the first act she begins to transform. The voice she was using to sing goes from being a more childlike voice to a tearing powerful one that is able to elucidate the depths of despair which she has experienced, and how much hope and joy she has at the end of the show. Compere’s Sofia is a force of nature with such powerful stage presence, that there were times she simply needed to walk out on stage and give another character a look, and the audience was brought howling to its knees. She is the personification of raw sexual energy balanced with a take-no-bullshit attitude and soul-deep dignity which cannot be shaken.
Like I said – I feel awful that I got to see this, and chances are that you did not. It was such a powerful show. But the good news is, that even if you have been remiss in partaking in the other versions of The Color Purple, you can do that now, and if you see a production of this show in a theater near you, you’ll know that it will be worth the time and energy to go and see it.
Details: The Color Purple, played at the Kennedy Center through 26 August. Touring information here.