THE COLOR PURPLE, The Musical about Love

by Dick Kerekes
Alice Walker’s l982 Pulitzer Prize Winning Book came to life on stage in 2005 on Broadway, thanks in part to the financial assistance of persons like Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones and a ten million dollar investment. It was nominated for eleven Tony Awards and ran until February 24th 2008. It was made into a motion picture by Steven Spielberg starring Whoopie Goldberg and was nominated for eleven Academy Awards.
The Stage Aurora version will be on stage at the Stage Aurora Performance Hall inside Gateway Town Center, 5188 Norwood Ave. in Jacksonville until October l4 2012. Call (904) 765-7372 for reservations. Note: Since this theatre is inside a mall, evening performances are at either 6pm or 7pm, with matinees at 2pm or 3pm.
A Broadway road production came through Jacksonville about four years ago, and I wrote in EU that this was a show you would probably not see at any community theatres due to the vocal demands of allof the roles. I must admit I was wrong and did not realize that Producer/Director and Stage Aurora Founder
Darryl Reuben Hall who has been producing outstanding musicals locally since 2003, was so well connected with the talent necessary to put this show on. His track record of shows includes, just to name a few : “The Wiz”, “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Neff”, “DreamGirls”, “Black Nativity”, “Crowns”, “Mahalia”, “Raisin in the Sun” and “ Mama, I Want to Sing”.
The songs in “Purple” offer a bit of many styles, gospel, jive, jazz, blues and ballads. You won’t walk out humming any of the music, but you will agree that they dramatically move the plot along, and demand good singers and this production has them.
A very simple plot summary would go like this: It is the story of Celie, a poor black girl who fights for her self esteem when she is seperated from her sister Nettie (Candace Crump) and is forced into a brutal marriage. The story spans the time from l909 to l949 in a small Georgia town with a brief visit to Africa in Act II.
Director Hall has double cast several of the roles, to take advantage of the wonderful talent available. In the case of the leading character Celie, it is a triple role, and the role was played by Lolita Jennings-Flagg on our review night. When you see the show it may be played by Victoria Canady or Chelsea Love Hunt. All three ladies have impressive credits. Ms. Jennings-Flagg performance was outstanding, and I especially like the transition she made from a l4 year old girl to an old woman. With the help of makeup she was a very convincing senior and very effectively used her voice and body movements in the portrayal.
Sofia (Toni Diamond-Bingham) and her husband Harpo (Charles Lattimore) provided much of the humor in this play.) You may see Tarra Jones as Sofia when you attend.
Speaking of humor, three gossiping church ladies were hilarious as played by Sumerka Jackson, Traci Jones and Tarra Jones.
The sexy and sultry night club singer, Shug Avery was played by Akia McDaniels showing a wide range of emotions as she becomes a friend and lover of Celie. This role has also been double cast with DeeDee Ellis.
Elliott Wimes is Albert who becomes Celie’s husband for the price of a cow since all he wanted was a full time live in maid and someone to take care of his children by. Wimes, sings well, and makes an interesting transition from a brut to a real nice guy in Act II.
Donatavies Boatwright, a professional gospel singer, only makes a brief appearance at the start of the play but his preaching and singing certainly impressed the audience and got our blood flowing! Amen!
The excellent music was provided by only two musicians, Anthony Felton and Jonathan Hansell on drums and a keyboard. Latrisa Harper choreographed this large cast and used every bit of the large stage to make it exciting for the audience.
Harlan Penn’s set design consisted of a large wall, probably 100 feet long across the back of the stage that was unpainted wood. Various set pieces from couches, a bath tub, bar and tables for the juke joint scene were brought on and off swiftly by the Stage Crew of Roxanne Hilbert and Shavon Johnson. The costumes by Sandra Levy Donawa and Valerie Bellamy Bailey reflect the times and the people who were mainly poor, with simple cotton dresses for the town ladies and work clothes for the men. Shug and Albert , who were more affluent, dressed with more style and flash.
Vocal Director John Gripper certainly had his hands full with over 40 people in the cast and music that was very demanding and precise. He did an excellent job. In reading the biographies in the excellent playbill, it appears that almost everyone in the cast sings in a local church, which may explain by the voices were so good.
Here are a couple of tips about going to this to see this show. All seats appear to be general admission, so get there early and you have your choice of the 200 seats. Gateway Shopping Center is quite large and the easiest way to find the theatre is to find the large Publix
grocery store and the entrance mall entrance to Stage Aurora is across from the entrance to Publix. There is not a concession stand in the theatre or close by so you might want to bring a bottle of water.
This show has sexual references but we heard no offensive language. The novel was very violent but Director Hall has toned this down. If you are curious about the title, “The Color Purple” the author pointed out that we often equate purple with pain and suffering (bruises are frequently purple in color), but as the character Shag points out in the play that flowers in the fields can be purple and be beautiful.
Rounding out this excellent cast in no particular order are: Monique Ellis, Michelle Grant, Joyce Petty, Kai Smith, Tiffany Singh, Princess Nadia Hopkins, Amahre Palmer, Angela Roberts, Marc Curtis Little, Leroy Gordon, Arcman Durosier, Joe Foster, Akai Marje, Savannah Roy, Jayla Royal, Jewel Johnson, Ladarius Purdy, James Simpo, Bianca Petty, Jordan Grant, Joshua Allen, Vincent Lewis, Jimmie Randle, Sade’ Casper, Adrienne Reid, Shacrista Bell, Makayla Golden, Abraham Gonzalez, Christopher Green, Tierra Green, and Wilfred Reddick.
We want to thank Jacksonville native Angela Robinson who played the role of Shug Avery on Broadway for being a consult on this production for Director Hall. Don’t miss the opportunity have a Stage Aurora theatre experience, see “The Color Purple”. For additional information visit www.stageaurora.org

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