Book by Marsha Norman
Music & Lyrics by Brenda Russell
Allee Willis & Stephan Bray
Directed by L. Walter Stearns
Musical Direction by Eugene Dizon
Choreographed by Brenda Didier
At the Mercury Theatre, Chicago
Heartfelt and gorgeous version of The Color Purple plays well on the intimate Mercury Theatre stage
The Color Purple – The Musical is a smart adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel and Stephen Spielberg’s film. The musical found a seamless way to bridge the 40 year span cover here (1909-1949). Filled with powerful voices and musical styles ranging from work songs, blues, gospel, R & B to honky tonk, jazz, be-bop and swing, The Color Purple – The Musical is a toe-tapping sophisticated gem. Eugene Dizon’s reductions worked to give the score a rich flavor despite only eight musicians in the pit.
The epic story centers on a young, gangly and ugly girl, Celie (the charming empathetic Trisha Jeffrey) who is ‘given’ to Mister (Keithon Gipson) a cruel, physically abusive and uncaring man already beset with wild children. We see Celie being separated from her sister Nettie (Crystal Corinne Wood) since she will not have sex with Mister during her visits to Celie. Nettie goes to school and ends up a missionary in Africa.
Celie settles in for a long and abusive relationship as a housekeeper to the nasty Mister. Marsha Norman’s book never retreats from the pain, anguish and demeaning treatment of woman by their men. Yet, the show has many funny moments as it blends with the pain and torment suffered by women with deeply human moments.
From the rousing early church gospel number, “Mysterious Ways,” the excellent score by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephan Bray captures the mood and the openly emotional world these folks occupy. The use of three gospel singing Church Ladies (Sydney Charles, Carrie Louise Abernathy and Brittany L. Bradshaw) adds humor and bridges the story line nicely. Celie never receives Nettie’s letters over the years since Mister’s need for control and his cruelty dominates.
Mister’s son Harpo (Evan Tyrone Martin) marries Sofia (the intense Jasondra Johnson) and he quickly discovers the strongest-willed woman ever. Sophia and Harpo forge a relationship that finds Sophia in charge. In the show-stopper “Hell No!,” Sofia established herself as ‘untouchable.’ When Shug Avery (Adrienne Walker) arrives at Mister’s house, both Mister and Celie fall in love with the charismatic jute singer. Over the years Ceclie and Shug bond in a mutually supportive love relationship. At last Celie find someone to love her. Shug’s jute join blues number “Push Da Button” was a hoot and the haunting “What About Love” duet by Celie and Shug was a telling moment.
The Color Purple covers the 40 years with colorful period costumes, graying of hair and fine transitions that convey through the vivid lighting and rustic sets the atmosphere of rural Tennessee as it emerges into modern 2oth Century America.
This gem of a musical features sensual choreography by Brenda Didier that demonstrated the spirit of the rural African-Americans as they celebrated life.. Jasondra Johnson is charismatic sporting a powerful voice and stage presence. The act two African dance rhythms move to into a picturesque African ritual.
Ultimately, The Color Purple is Celie’s show and Trisha Jeffery gave a heartfelt and totally winning performance as she went from the timid teen to a strong, ever-hopeful woman of internal strength. Jeffrey is an honest actor with a terrific voice. She landed the anthem “I’m Here” with such emotion that the entire theatre reverberated.Trisha Jeffrey is outstanding here as she makes Celie into a most memorable character.
The Color Purple is a musical about love, hope, redemption, forgiveness and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit. There was the great Porgy and Bess from the 20th Century and now there is The Color Purple for the 21st Century. The Mercury Theatre’s production, under the spirited direction from Walter Stearns, is a most worthy one that begs to be seen. Don’t miss it.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: August 26, 2013
For more info checkout The Color Purple page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-325-1700, www.mercurytheaterchicago.com, tickets $22 – $59, Wednesdays at 7:30 pm , Thursdays at 2 & 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at2 pm, running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with intermission, through October 27, 2013