- The Color Purple
- April 3, Smith Center
The Smith Center kicked off its Broadway Las Vegas Series with the touring production of Broadway musical The Color Purple. Based on Alice Walker’s 1982 novel and the 1985 film, the musical—with a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray—tells the story of Celie, a horrifically abused, “ugly” black girl in the deep south from 1909 to 1949. Sadly, The Color Purple doesn’t play like the bloody, heartbreaking and transcendent story at its core; it plays like a corporate musical.
Take Celie’s signature song, “I’m Here,” a bring-the-house-down belter in which Celie, after a lifetime of being taken advantage of and then taken for granted, triumphantly declares her realization that she can, finally, see herself as beautiful. The stage picture during the song is gorgeous—a tree adorned with purple flowers dropping in from the fly loft—and the orchestra swells triumphantly as Ashley L. Ware sings her heart out as Celie. It should be a musical theater goldmine, but the music doesn’t quite deliver the goods.
It didn’t help that the mix sounded top-heavy. The strings and female vocalists were incredibly bright and articulated, but everything else sounded hollow and muddy, turning many of the vocal lines to mush and making swaths of the larger songs unintelligible.
What worked? The more honky-tonk numbers “Big Dog” and “Push da Button” had vitality and jump, and the first act finale “What About Love?” between Celie and Shug Avery (played by Taprena Augustine) was a tender duet. Deidra Grace as Sofia grabbed hold of the songs, stage and audience every time she opened her mouth, and the three church ladies (Kadejah One’, Charity Dawson and Deaun Parker) had sharp harmonies and dazzling solos.
The second act opener came closest to making the show special. As Celie read letters from her sister in Africa, she was joined onstage by members of African tribes, and their tribal dance was woven with events in Georgia. It felt a little long and didactic, but when Celie began dancing with the African villagers, it was an undeniably moving moment, conveying a wholeness—a connection you might not have realized was missing until she made that leap.