Through October 1
THE COLOR PURPLE Shea’s 710/Ujima Company/Second Generation Theatre/Shea’s 710 Theatre
Often, in the early years of Curtain Up! there would be a map of the opening shows, with a large blob covering the expanded area of the Theatre District.
There would also be outliers, Ujima on Elmwood Avenue, MusicalFare out in Amherst and the African American Cultural Center’s Paul Robeson Theatre on Masten.
And, later in the season, there would be a Black play in the old Studio Arena Theatre, usually in February when every Black performer worked.
Now, the old Studio is the 710 Theatre and the opening show is the musical version of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.”
I saw it the night after the opening and 710 was packed and excited.
It’s not unusual for a theater to pack the house for an opening and have a lot of empty seats the next night.
I saw a situation like that last week.
This production is another one of those joint productions which have enriched the theater season in recent years, here Shea’s 710, Ujima and Second Generation Theatre.
“The Color Purple” is a look at Black people in rural Georgia in the first half of the 20th Century, some good and some bad and most just trying to get by in a time and a place where not being White could be fatal.
At the heart of the musical are Mister (George L. Brown) and his underage wife, Celie (Gabriella McKinley), and Shug Avery (Jetaun Louie), a singer who’s in love with both.
The songs go from “Somebody Gonna Love You” to “Push Da Button” to “The Color Purple.”.
It’s an often depressive story about people trying to make their way in bad times
Celie is forced to give up her two incestuous children.
Mister is doing well until Celie curses him, as she walks away from her husband.
Her sister Nettie (Anika Pace) has vanished until it becomes known she’s a successful preacher in Africa.
In the end, things get better for just about everyone.
“The Color Purple” has problems, both in the complexity of this second version of the show, as well as annoying people in the audience who don’t understand: No cell phones. No picture taking for “The ‘Gram.”
Director Sarah Norat Phillips has some strong performances using Chris Cavanagh’s sprawling scenic design.
The show also has strong choreography from Naila Ansari and good dancing from the entire cast.
The whole show is filled with solid and colorful costuming from Jenna Damberger.
A characteristic of shows based on long and complicated novels is the simplification of the original story and that doesn’t really happen here.
Book writer Marsha Norman and music and lyrics writers Brenda Russel, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray don’t seem to have left anything out of Walker’s novel and the story drags a bit, partially because it’s hard to keep track of all the characters.
Even so, “The Color Purple” is worth heading into the Theatre District to see.
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