Taking the stage before the opening of The Color Purple, director Jereme Raickett asked two things of the audience. Silence your cell phones and clear your mind of any distractions, open your heart and prepare to receive the communion that is this story. Okay, that’s technically four things but following his suggested directives ensures you will experience the maximum emotional impact of this stunning and captivating musical.
Delivering a powerhouse performance to sold out crowds, Players’ 53rd season opened with the joyful noise of choral ensemble, setting a spiritual tone for the 40-year journey shared through the lens of Celie, a poor African American girl in 1900’s rural Georgia. Raickett assembled a monster cast of 32 spectacularly gifted individuals to lift this story from the script and set it alight.
Making her debut on the Players stage, Jamie King’s portrayal of Celie is what makes live theatre such a thrill to behold. King’s raw vulnerability, quiet desperation and unwavering determination in the face of her bleak existence is hypnotic. With an exquisite attention to detail, she conveys the transformation from childlike innocence to an embattled wife of an abusive husband and beyond with subtle precision. But make no mistake. There is nothing subtle about King’s delivery. Her masterful command of the script and soaring vocals create a nuanced and dynamic performance.
This bold cast of talented actors adhere to the authenticity of the characters in Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer prize winning book. And as the core of the original story centers on female relationships, this production belongs to the sisterhood (though the male cast members are all outstanding in their own right). It’s difficult to highlight a single standout performance. Each character is presented with dimension and great care for the overall story as well as their own.
Actress Rashawnda Foster is superb as Celie’s sister Nettie. Foster’s vocal capabilities mesh beautifully with King’s Though separated from Celie after she is forced into a brutal marriage with “Mister,” Nettie’s connection to her sister never wavers. Her emotional turn in the show’s second act dares audiences to confront the atrocities experienced by the African missionaries with a dry eye. If that doesn’t get you, hold on to your Kleenex for the final number. The cast bows were taken, and house lights were up as many audience members sniffled and wipe away tears on their way out of the theatre.
It’s hard to imagine levity in a story ripe with incest, abuse and infidelities, but Jazz Zamor delivers much needed comic relief as the formidable, no nonsense Sofia. As the wife of Mister’s son Harpo, Sofia discovers the depth of abuse Celie suffered at the hands of Mister, she encourages the desperate young woman to find her strength in the comedic, ball buster of a number “Hell No.” When Sofia is beaten and jailed after a confrontation with the town’s mayor, Sofia’s light is dimmed but her spark never truly fades. Her fire reignites in a memorable scene with the audience rooting for her all the way.
Actress Kristal DeVore is bawdy, raucous and tender as Shug Avery, a blues singer coming back to town from Memphis where its revealed that she’s Mister’s real true love. She arrives in poor health and Celie takes it upon herself to nurse her husband’s lover back to health, where she discovers own her emotions stirring below the surface. DeVore is a veritable force of nature as Shug. The compassion and love she shares with Celie expose a genuine soul beneath her gritty exterior. One audience member (there’s always one) failed to adhere to rule number one and interrupted an otherwise heartwarming duet between King and DeVore.
The Color Purple is about finding your voice and the musical numbers ranging from gospel and honky-tonk to R&B and tender ballads provide plenty of opportunities for the cast to bring down the house. The hard work and dedication of Music Director Meachum Clarke and choreographer Sherrod Brown align with the spirit of the show. The dance sequences and musical numbers are all worthy of the Broadway stage.
This story doesn’t just tug at your heartstrings. It will lasso your heart, wrestle it to the ground and sit on it while it takes away every breath you’ve had in your whole life. Powerful, strong and engaging, The Color Purple stands among the most triumphant productions to grace the PBTS stage and will leave audiences in breathless anticipation for the rest of the season.