by Dick Kerekes
Photos by Daniel Goncalves
The musical The Color Purple came into Jacksonville Tuesday night at the Times Union Center and will be there through November 22nd.
The is yet another leg of a journey that began with Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize Winning book in l982, then went on to become an acclaimed Steven Spielberg movie in l985. In that movie Oprah Winfrey was Sofia receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. With Oprah’s assistance, eleven million dollars was put into producing this musical version that opened in 2005 and it has recouped its investment entirely.
It is the story of Celie (Phyre Hawkins) a poor black girl who fights for her self-esteem when she is separated from her sister Nettie (LaToya London) and forced into a brutal marriage. It spans from l909 to l949 in a small Georgia town with a brief visit to Africa in Act II.
Marsha Norman, the book writer, and three song writers, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray and Brenda Russell, have taken what is essentially a grim story and made it a compelling and not to be missed event while infusing quite a bit of humor along the way. When you are dealing with subjects like rape, lesbianism, domestic violence, infidelities and even suggestions of incest, that is a formidable task. In the end, the show with this very strong emotional story, is uplifting.
The marvelous sets and the costumes are worth the admission price. Fields of grain, with a sky, fill with many colors at various times, are breathtaking. The costumes change as the years pass and are truly a visual delight.
The songs offer a bit of many styles, gospel, jive, jazz, blues and ballads. You won’t walk out humming any of the music but the large number of songs moves the plot along. More importantly, they seem to be written to really demand great voices, and this show is loaded with top notch singers.
Judging by the audience reaction, there were two clear cut favorites of among the large cast of 30. Felicia Fields won a Tony Award for her performance of Sofia on Broadway, and she showed this very enthusiastic Jacksonville audience why. She provided most of the humor in the play.
Jacksonville native Angela Robinson, came back to her home town, in the role of Shug Avery, and was greeted with rousing applause upon her entrance. Since making her start at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre under the direction of Tod Booth some years ago, she has established herself as a musical theatre star all over the East coast of the USA. As Shug, she says one of the most poignant lines in the show “It angers God if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
In reading the credits of the many actors, it would appear you have the opportunity to see almost exactly the same show that played on Broadway since most of the bios show Big Apple experience in Purple.
Take advantage of the opportunity to see this unique show. It is one you are not apt to see at any community theatre as the vocal demands are great in so many of the roles.
Wonderful voices, wonderful sets, and intriguing story, but don’t take the kids for obvious reasons. Oh, yes, there is a happy ending.
After the show I was invited to the cast party held at the Ritz Theatre with V101.5 FM and Davita Dialysis. K. J. of l0l.5, was the master of ceremonies, and welcomed the cast members as they arrived in a limo from the TU Center provided by Suzy’s Limo Services. Douglas Anderson student Jahaan Sweet performed on the piano providing interesting background music for conversation until the actors arrived. Of course, there was food; actors are always hungry after 2-3 hours of dancing and singing. It had been a while since I had been to the Ritz and I had forgotten the beauty to which it had been restored. It just celebrated its l0th anniversary. Meeting the performers was a great way to end an interesting evening of theatre.