Alice Walker’s inspiring story of love, redemption and respect has found a new home for a new generation as her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, ‘The Color Purple’, treads the boards on Broadway.
The show, directed by Gary Griffin, features a libretto written by Marsha Norman (also a Pulitzer-prizewinner, for the play (‘’Night, Mother’) and a composer/lyricist team of Brenda Russell (famous for her 1988 hit ‘Piano in the Dark’ and also a writer of Oleta Adams’ ‘Get Here’), Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.
The cast album features the entire show’s score, and features an incredible cast on prominent display. LaChanze creates the lead role of Celie, a poor Southern black girl molested by her father, separated from her sister and sold to another abusive man, Mr. (Kingsley Leggs). She finds strength in two women: Sofia (Felicia P. Fields), the tough-talkin’ wife of step-son Harpo (Brandon Victor Dixon), and Shug Avery, the free-spirited performer who has had affairs with everyone (Elizabeth Withers-Mendes). All the while, Celie dreams of reuniting with her sister Nettie (Renee Elise Goldsberry).
Every cast member gets a chance to strut his or her stuff here – and what great stuff it is. LaChanze’s good numbers include ‘Somebody Gonna Love You’ and ‘I’m Here,’ her eleventh-hour number, as well as a sweet, if ultimately none-too-memorable duet with Withers-Mendes, “What About Love?” Withers-Mendes sings several lovely ballads, ‘Too Beautiful for Words’ and the show’s titular theme, ‘The Color Purple.’ She also gets the showstopper, ‘Push the Button,’ a highly-suggestive flapper-era number.
Fields, also an audience favorite, gets a lot of attention from the audience, especially in one big anti-violence number, ‘Hell No!’ She and Dixon also get nice and naughty in a late second-act number, ‘Any Little Thing.’ The incredibly talented Leggs also gets a solo, ‘Celie’s Curse,’ and one wishes his rich baritone could have been featured more prominently.
These songs are all well-performed and many are appropriately gospel-tinged for a cast of God-worshipping characters, and in the moment are very absorbing, but they do not stay with the listener once the music stops. It’s not that they are not catchy (some, like ‘Push the Button,’ most definitely are), but they are not lasting numbers, the way ‘Lot’s Wife’ in ‘Caroline, or Change’ was.
That’s too bad. The show and its music are pretty good, but Celie deserves better.Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.