By Andy Propst on Jun 11, 2009 | In ATW Reviews
A vocally strong cast, many with Broadway experience in their roles, brings the poignant tale of a young black woman’s struggle-filled journey to self acceptance and love to The Bushnell in The Color Purple.
Kenita R Miller comes to the tour from the Broadway show as Celie, a young girl raped by her father, forced to give up two babies, then forced into marriage with Mister (Rufus Bonds, Jr.) who, along with his unruly children, treat her as little more than a slave. When Mister’s attempts to seduce Celie’s sister Nettie (Latrisa A. Harper performed for LaToya London of American Idol fame the night I attended) are rebuffed, he sends Nettie away. When Celie doesn’t hear from her over the years (Mister has hidden her letters), Celie fears the only person who ever loved her is dead.
Celie does find friendship with two women: Sophia (a dynamic Felicia P. Fields who originated the role on Broadway), the wife of Mister’s bullied son Harpo (Brandon Victor Dixon also of the Broadway original), and Mister’s lover Sug Avery (Angela Robinson, a third Broadway veteran of the show), an entertainer and Mister’s first love, whom he was prevented from marrying by his overbearing father (Mike Hodge).
Over the years, in front of a plain wooden planked set with colorful changing backdrops (set design John Lee Beatty), the characters encounter various hardships and find ways to forgive and begin fresh while Celie and Sug form their own attachment. Gary Griffin directs the able cast through the saga, helped along by music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray that ranges from spirituals to rhythm to African beats with choreography (Donald Byrd.) and colorful costumes (Paul Tazewell) to match.
Fields practically steals the show with the number “Hell, No!” and an attitude that says the same as Sophia threatens anyone, including Harpo, who messes with her.
This, and other, strong performance work, however, doesn't mask some of the other problems with the show. The first half of "Purple" feels like a fast-forward version of the Alice Walker novel on which the musical is based as bookwriter Marsha Norman tries to cram the 30-year span into one act. Truthfully, if you aren’t familiar with the book or its film incarnation before seeing the musical, it might be difficult to follow what’s happening because of the hit-and-run plot and very poor sound mixing (designer Jon Weston) which makes it difficult to hear some of the dialogue and singers with crucial lyrics over the orchestra.
Still, the poignant story of love and forgiveness, like the show's heroine, seems unstoppable, and it's welcome to revisit Walker's tale as performed by some top-notch actors seasoned in their roles.
---- Lauren Yarger
The Color Purple plays at The Bushnell (166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT) through June 14. Performance times are 7:30 Thursday; 8pm Friday; 2 and 8 pm Saturday and 2pm and 7:30 pm Sunday. Tickets are $25-$75 and can be purchased by calling 860-087-5900 or by visiting www.bushnell.org.
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