Original Article: https://www.chicagotheatrereview.com/2019/09/what-about-love-3/
The Color Purple – Drury Lane Theatre
Love’s transformative and healing power can redirect a person’s life. A feeling of positive self-worth can bring an individual full circle, from subservience and hopelessness to independence and confidence. The Color Purple, Alice Walker’s beloved, 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, follows the journey of Celie, a downtrodden young African-American girl, living in rural Georgia during the early to mid-twentieth century. Her story is incredibly inspiring because Celie rose from a depraved childhood to an abusive married life, finally becoming a strong, independent woman, able to stand on her own two feet.
The novel was adapted for the screen in 1985, by Steven Spielberg. Soon afterwards, Marsha Norman (“The Secret Garden,” “The Bridges of Madison County”) scripted a version for the stage, with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Brey. The original New York production, directed by Chicago’s Gary Griffin, opened on Broadway in 2005, earning eleven Tony nominations and playing for three years. The production eventually spawned several national tours and countless regional productions. In early 2017 Award-winning British director John Doyle’s scaled down his version of the musical, which played to great acclaim in the West End. This much-lauded production eventually crossed the pond and opened two years later on Broadway, taking home the 2016 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. The show has since become a popular addition to many community, regional and educational theatres.
Lili-Anne Brown’s gorgeous, soulful production of this hit musical is a heartfelt, uplifting story of redemption and love. Her production pays homage both to Ms. Walker’s novel as well as the popular film, while trimming away the excess. It features a cast of exciting, talented Chicago performers, beautifully supported by some of the finest theatre artists around. Ms. Brown’s directing prowess and creative vision has been proven time and again in other Chicago productions; here at Drury Lane she’s ably assisted by musical director Jermaine Hill, providing fervent orchestral accompaniment and guidance, and Breon Arzell’s exceptionally cheeky choreography.
This mostly Equity cast is first-rate. Their passion, energy and musical talent carry the show to its achievement. Featured among the ensemble are three hilarious, gossipy church ladies who act as a kind of Greek chorus and provide much of the show’s humor. They’re played respectively by a trio of incomparable musical actors: Camille Robinson, Alexis J. Roston and Shantel Cribbs. Together they form the backbone of this production’s choral ensemble, joined, off and on, by most of the other 14 cast members.
Perhaps one of the most exciting elements of this musical is that it’s a show that showcases its women, primarily focusing on and featuring the talents of some pretty exceptional, fantastically talented actresses. After charming audiences as Miss Honey in “Matilda,” Eben K. Logan returns to the Drury Lane stage in the leading role of Celie. She’s also appeared at the Paramount in “The Producers,” as well as the Marriott’s production of “Sweet Charity.” At last, Ms. Logan deservedly gets a starring role, as she leads this stunning production. This actress is one incredible singer, overflowing with honesty, personality and a bright smile that lights up the stage. Mister may call Celie “ugly,” but the audience only sees a beautiful, heartbreaking woman who steers this production to its joyful conclusion.
Nettie, Celie’s younger sister, who runs away to escape abuse and becomes an African missionary, is played with grace and heart by the lovely Kyrie Courter. The talented Ms. Courter recently left audiences in awe for her heartfelt performance in Writers Theatre’s “Next to Normal,” as well as in BoHo Theatre’s “Marie Christine.” The sibling relationship forged by these two ladies is warm, sincere and the heart of this story. The two actresses break the audience’s heart with the poignant journey they travel.
Another veteran of the Chicago stage, mega-talented Nicole Michelle Haskins returns greatly impresses as Sofia. As one of Celie’s role models, Ms. Haskins, who can easily belt a song to the rear balcony, plays a no-nonsense woman who refuses to be beaten down or taken advantage of by anyone, least of all by any man. Her theme song, “Hell No!” is only one of the actress’ standout numbers. Celie’s other role model and, besides her sister, the one person who truly loves her, is juke joint chanteuse Shug Avery. She’s played here with sass, sensuality and self-reliant independence by the incomparable Sydney Charles. This actress wears her character’s devil-may-care attitude like queen’s crown. The sincere affection and mentorship she offers is what enables Celie to survive and realize her own potential. Ms. Charles brings down the house with her contagious number, “Push Da Button;” and her beautiful duet with Celie, “What About Love?” is the anthem of this show.
Other noteworthy performances include Melanie Loren’s bubbly, humorously annoying Squeak; Melvin Abston, as Celie’s sadistic, chauvinistic bully of a husband, Mister, who eventually finds his own change of heart; and the always wonderful Gilbert Domally, makes a handsome, delightfully charming and very funny Harpo. Sean Blake radiates hostility as Pa and Adhana Reid and Gabriel Mudd are affecting as Celie’s grown children, Olivia and Adam. Lorenzo Rush, Jr. is powerful as an energetic, life-affirming Preacher, doubling as memorable Ol’ Mister, the man who was the model for Mister’s hatred and unpleasantness.
Penny Lane Studios and Samantha C. Jones provide the beautiful period wigs, hair and costumes that add so much of the color and style for this show. Arnel Sancianco’s simple, modest, scaled-back scenic design consists of a couple wooden platforms and backed by a tower of assembled lumber scraps. A clothesline, heavily hung with bedding, forms a rustic, makeshift act curtain; and the entire production is artistically illuminated by Cat Wilson, with projections designed by Cassy Schillo.
This production rewards its audience with so much. It features exciting performances, gorgeous music, sassy choreography and dramatic spectacle. The show offers an abundance of wonder and joy that would make Alice Walker so proud to see how beautifully her emotion-filled novel has been brought to life. It’s all thanks to the vision and artistry of master director Lili-Anne Brown, her multitalented cast and her gifted production team. And What About Love? Well, it radiates from the Drury Lane stage and into the heart and soul of every theatergoer in this stellar, Broadway calibre production that gleams with brilliance in Oakbrook Terrace.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 13-November 3 by Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 630-530-0111 or by going to www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.