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The Color Purple

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The Color Purple was written in 1982 by Alice Walker, as a novel. In 1985, it won accolades and awards as a Steven Spielberg directed film. In 2005, with the likes of Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey as producers, and a script adaptation by Marsha Norman – along with music and lyrics created by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray –The Color Purple made its debut as a musical at New York’s storied Broadway Theatre.


Purple ran for nearly a thousand performances on The Great White Way, earning eleven Tony nominations before becoming a mainstay of musical theater tours across the nation, and even around the world.

Now So Cal audiences have the ripe opportunity to witness The Color Purple incarnated in a nearly perfect production in the intimate Hollywood venue known as the Celebration Theatre. Under Michael Matthew’s vibrant direction and with Janet Roston’s illustrative choreography – underscored by Gregory Nabours’ marvelously rhythmic musical direction (of a feisty five-piece orchestra – this Color Purple is a rousing reinvention, not only of the previous big auditorium productions, but also of the cinematic and literary treatments of the story.

The epic plot unfolds over nearly a half century of the 1900s – from 1909 to 1949. In it we follow the tribulations, revelations, and eventual evolution of Celie (a magnificently mournful Cesili Williams), an abused 14 year-old when the story starts, who is given away in marriage by her cruel father (Corey Jones, outstanding in several roles) to the even meaner Mister (a towering Michael A. Shepperd). To sweeten the exchange, Celie’s “Pa” goes so far as to add a cow to Mister’s bargain debasement deal.

There’s tension from the beginning, however, because Mister’s attention first goes to Celie’s little sister, Nettie (Kelly M. Jenrette in a dimpled-cheek, open-hearted portrayal). But, according to Pa, Nettie’s too young for marriage. Years and continents separate the two siblings, as Celie suffers the temper and torment of the miserly Mister, while Nettie, after being assaulted by Mister herself, sails on to missionary work in tribal Africa.

Meanwhile, Mister’s long-lived love affair with Memphis chanteuse, Shug Avery (sexy songstress Latoya London) is revived when Shug arrives at Mister’s Georgia home. It’s Shug who gives a letter from Nettie to Celie. This confirms for Celie that Nettie is alive. Eventually Celie finds several missives from Nettie, all of which have been hidden from her by Mister.

Moreover, Mister’s oldest son, Harpo (sturdy Terrance Spencer, who performs as several characters), has fallen hard- in-love with the iron-willed and pugnacious Sofia (a vocally impressive Constance Jewell Lopez). Sofia, along with the uninhibited Shug, is one the few females bold enough to stand up to the engrained patriarchal codes of the era. Both of these characters serve as role-models and inspirations for Celie’s nascent self discovery and liberation, including the emancipation of her authentic sexual orientation.

The Color Purple is a sprawling narrative set to a score that carries the torrid tale forward, while punctuating the rise-above-it themes of the show, both in terms of musicality and emotionality. Indeed, plot-points are emphasized by pivotal song and dance numbers. For instance, "Our Prayer" (performed by Nettie, Celie and Mister); Shug Avery Comin’ to Town (brought to sight and sound by Mister, Celie and Company); and the title song, "The Color Purple" (sung by Shug, and reprised as the finale by Celie, Nettie, and Company) are each examples of how the music easily merges with the movement of the story, serving to illuminate as well as invigorate the complex proceedings.

In two hours and forty-five minutes we are given over a dozen-and-a-half musical routines delivered by seventeen well-pitched performers, each in top artistic form. Although the cozy theater space can at times barely contain the starburst energy and excitement of this vivid presentation of Purple, the power exhibited here is nothing short of astonishing.

Kudos, too, to the team of technical artist and craftspeople who, through their exquisite design capabilities, create an extraordinary degree of verisimilitude in the show. Stephen Gifford’s scenic design is inventive and imaginatively bridges time and space in a singularly theatrical fashion. Also, Naila Aladdin Sander’s costuming lends authenticity to the periods and places represented.

Add to these production values Cricket S. Myers’ dimensional soundscape – along with Michael Iran Leon’s wig and make-up work – and it’s clear that The Color Purple is an American musical bound, in time, to take its place alongside such stage classics as Showboat and the more operatic Porgy and Bess.

The Color Purple continues at the Celebration Theatre – 7051B Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood – through May 26. Show times are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 3 p.m. For reservations, dial (323) 957 – 1884. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.celebrationtheatre.com.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.