Original Article: https://www.picturethispost.com/drury-lane-theatre-the-color-purple/
Celie and her sister, Nettie, are completely alone on stage – sitting on a wooden bench beneath the lines of laundry that string high above. Celie just had her baby, and Pa is forcing her to give him away – just like her last child. Is Pa giving them away, or something far worse? Nettie chooses to remain optimistic, encouraging Celie to not lose hope that her children are safe and loved. Celie asks Nettie how she possibly knows this outcome, and Nettie responds:
“It’s not something I know, it’s something I believe.”
The Color Purple is a story about many things: hope, hardship, love, spirituality, strength, and so much more. Nettie’s line arrives early in the play, and acts as the perfect backdrop for the musical that unfolds: it is hard to know what the future holds, but the best we can do is hope and believe.
The Color Purple follows Celie (Eben K. Logan, with striking presence), a young African American woman living in the South in the early 1900s – a time period that does not give a woman in Celie’s position many options. Over the course of the musical we watch her struggle with an abusive home life under Pa (Sean Blake), become forcefully separated from her sister, Nettie (Kyrie Courter), and find herself stuck in a marriage to Mister (Melvin Abston) just as cruel as her upbringing.
However, despite these awful circumstances, Celie still finds room for hope and love – particularly in the relationships with the women who enter her life. It is through her connections with inspiring women like Nettie, Sophia (Nicole Michelle Haskins, with stunning vocals and comedic timing), and Shug Avery (Sydney Charles) that Celie discovers her own strength and spirituality – as well as her own ability to inspire and lift those around her. Masterfully directed by Lilli-Anne Brown, the Tony Award winning musical features hit songs from the famous score including Mysterious Ways, Too Beautiful for Words, Hell No, Push da Button, and The Color Purple.
Scenic Designer Arnel Sancianco’s stage, in this writer’s opinion, is stunning – abstract-enough with the basic wooden platforms and benches to represent multiple locations while still remaining incredibly specific to the time period and location. Lighting Designer Cat Wilson fills the space with vibrant colors that contrast the starker nature of the set – that particularly add life to the large, spiritual, and thrilling group numbers like The Color Purple. Three laundry lines of white-fabric and laundry complete the look – lines that lower to actor level and lift to the rafters as needed – fabric that also reflect the light and projections.
Huckleberry Pie kicks off the show, a number that repeats at key moments throughout the musical as a special part of Nettie and Celie’s relationship – a relationship that,Courter and Logan seem to bring to life through deeply honest stage chemistry. The song pairs with a secret handshake between the sisters, and carries a playful tune that reflects their youth in these earlier scenes. The first time we hear this song, the lights have just come down on the audience. Projections Designer Paul Deziel projects the shadows of two young girls singing the song and doing their handshake onto one of the white-fabric pieces connected to the laundry line. Aside from this one projection, the remainder of the stage is fairly dim – further emphasizing the image of these two sisters. At the end of the song, Nettie and Celie burst through the laundry and run off stage – cueing the ensemble entrance into Mysterious Ways. Brown creates what most will likely agree is a striking and memorable beginning. This is a musical about young women finding their journey in the midst of a society that swallows them alive – and the sharp transition between the intimate beginning and larger-than-life number that follows highlights that theme.
At the heart of this musical is a story about relationships, and Brown has, in this writer’s view, clearly worked with this talented ensemble to create some beautiful and intimate storytelling.
In addition to the familial relationship between Nettie and Celie, the blooming romance between Shug Avery and Celie certainly stands out. In Too Beautiful for Words, Shug invites Celie to look in the mirror and discover the beauty that everyone else denies her. In contrast to many of the numbers that take over the stage in energy, this one remains personal, and Logan and Charles share a heartfelt chemistry that elicited cheers and tears from this Opening Night audience.
Full of passion and honesty, Lilli-Ann Brown’s production of The Color Purple is one that should not be missed. From the look of the standing ovation that followed the Opening performance, it feels to safe to say that this writer is not alone in her opinion.