I see a lot of Broadway shows. And because I do, I have both a profound appreciation of all theater and a discerning palette when it comes to what I truly love. I enjoy quite a bit, but for something to get a rave from me, it must be compelling, must move me, must change me in some way and must stay with me. That is a tall order, I know.
Enter the new production of The Color Purple. It is pared down and sparse in appearance, and it could not be more magnificent and timely.
In a country that is more divisive than ever, a show about the triumph of the indomitable human spirit and an unshakable faith in the goodness of God and ultimately, of man, was a much needed balm for this world-weary soul.
I'll admit, I was apprehensive before seeing it about how graphic the show would be. I think it is asking a lot of people to plunk down their hard earned money to watch systemic abuse portrayed before their very eyes... in a musical, no less. But this production did not do that. It artfully got the point across, keeping me engaged and disturbed just enough, if that's possible. And it had to do that, really, if the show was going to work.
From start to finish, The Color Purple wowed me. You will find no greater wellspring of talent than the trifecta of brilliance known as Cynthia Erivo, Jennifer Hudson and Danielle Brooks. Nowhere in the world will you hear voices as glorious or witness performances as riveting. Truly. And that goes for the entire cast.
I say this with love: never mind any previous versions or mediums in which you saw The Color Purple before. You must see this production.
Based on Alice Walker's book, this version has its book by Marsha Norman and its music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. It is directed by John Doyle.
I'd like to give special mention to the sound. I don't think I have ever been to a show where every word and note was as clear as a bell as in this one. Inevitably, there is always at least one moment in anything I see where I lean over and say, "What?" to the person seated next to me. But not this time. So big, fat, appreciative kudos to sound design by Gregory Clarke. It was noticed.
Different moments in this show will resonate with different audience members, I'm sure. But I'm not gonna lie -- the moment Celie determined that her self worth and beauty was inherent in her existence, I was crying uncontrollably, not just because I needed to hear that, which I did, but because when I look at the world today, it is filled with people who do not know this.
Someone who truly knows how to love themselves could not practice hatred the way we see it. And knowing the era in which this show takes place, I found it profoundly sad that humanity, as a whole, has not come further along.
But then there is redemption. There is our capacity to become enlightened, to know something we never knew before and to act from that knowledge. And we all have that capacity. That possibility lives within each of us. And we can look back on our journey, even the most awful of them, and be thankful in some way -- for who we've become because of it, for what we stand for and even for the fact that we are still standing at all. Just like Celie.
When I think about what I felt leaving the theater after seeing The Color Purple, I would say I felt uplifted. I came away better somehow than when I entered. I was changed, moved, impacted. Great theater will do that. And make no mistake, The Color Purple is great theater.