The Color Purple – theatre review

Theatre magic will be on stage at Jacksonville’s Post to Post Links II error: No post found with slug "Alhambra Theatre" until April 27, with its superb production of the musical, Post to Post Links II error: No valid type provided We urge you to get your tickets quickly as this is going to be a blockbuster hit as soon as the word gets out.

The musical has an interesting history. It began as Alice Walker‘s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning book, and was followed by a 1985 film adaptation by Stephen Spielberg. Post to Post Links II error: No post found with slug "Oprah Winfrey" played the role of Sofia and received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. With Ms. Winfrey’s assistance and ten million dollars it was adapted as a stage musical that opened in 2005.

It is the story of Celie (played by Cherry Hamlin, who is lovely, her voice rich and well modulated; she is a ray of sunshine on stage). She is a young, poor, black girl who struggles to obtain a better life after she is separated from her sister Nettie (Julia Nicole Hunter) from an abusive marriage. Mister (Lamont Whitaker). is a well-off but unkind man, who was recently widowed. His only reason for taking a new wife is that he wants a live-in maid who will cook and clean and manage his farmhands and care for his children. The setting is a rural area in The Deep South, and covers the time span from 1906 to 1945.

There is quite a bit of humor, despite a story that covers a myriad of grim subjects and abusive and dissolute behaviors. Sofia (Tarra Conner Jones), an audience favorite who sings with electrifyingly exuberance) and husband Harpo (Cornelius Davis), provide much of the humor. The three gossiping church ladies (Michelle Grant) and (Akia Uwanda), are hilarious in their frequent appearances on stage, and also put on a glorious showing of the fashions of those days.

The songs in “The Color Purple” won’t have you leaving the theatre humming them, but they are filled with passion, tenderness, and heartbreak that is deeply revealing as well as moving. You will recognize several styles: gospel, jive, jazz, blues, and ballads, all sung by an impeccable cast of fervently serious musical theatre people. James Kinney’s choreography is exciting, and we found the elaborate dancing in The Juke scene particularly delightful.

The pivotal role of the sultry nightclub singer Shrug is by Broadway veteran Tracie Franklin, who displays a variety of emotions as she becomes a friend and lover of Celie.

Set Designer Dave Dionne design uses a stage that is extended on both ends, with most of the action in the middle of the stage, and set pieces that are moved on and off during brief blackouts. The two end alcoves provide settings for everything from a large bathtub to a bedroom, and, in Act II, a brief trip to Africa . Sheet metal and rustic boarding, as used in old Southern shotgun dwellings frame the stage opening.

The Costume Crew (Camela Pitts and Dorinda Sales) show their excellence in costuming, with a ceaselessly flowing pictorial of fashions covering four decades.

Director Todd Booth has staged the show imaginatively, to showcase the interactions of the performers as they portray the human ability to survive in this stunning emotional epic. “The Color Purple” has big, bold voices from the leads right down to the ensemble. It is a powerful and gripping story that is not to be missed. And it has a happy ending!

The Alhambra is located at 12000 Beach Blvd, in Jacksonville Florida. For reservations and information call (904) 641-1212.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.