Magazine article Variety

The Color Purple

Magazine article Variety

The Color Purple

Article excerpt

The Color Purple

THEATER: Bernard R. Jacobs; 1.065 seats; $195 top

DIRECTOR: John Doyle

STARRING: Cynthia Erivo. Jennifer Hudson, Danielle Brooks

The ladies wear the pants in John Doyle's ravishing revival of "The Color Purple." Jennifer Hudson is radiant as love machine Shug Avery. Danielle Brooks shakes the house as the earthy Sofia. And Cynthia Erivo, the tiny pint of dynamite who originated the role at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, brings the audience roaring to its feet as Celie, the shamefully abused heroine of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker that started the whole book-to-film-to-stage phenomenon. All three performers are making their Broadway debuts, which makes it all the more thrilling.

In a feat of reverse magic, Doyle's minimalist production maximizes the strength and beauty of Marsha Norman's book about the suffering of Celie at the hands of abusive men, and the painful sacrifices she makes to protect her beloved sister, Nettie (the lovely Joaquina Kalukango), from the same kind of cruelty. In Erivo's haunting performance, Celie's acts of sacrifice are made from the strength she draws from her love for Nettie. Her sexual submission to her father is an act of bravery, because it keeps him out of Nettie's bed. Her marriage to the cruel, whip-wielding man she calls Mister (Isaiah Johnson, snapping that whip like he means it) is the same kind of selfless act.

As Alice Walker made abundantly clear in her novel, rural Georgia in 1909 was a harsh place for poor, uneducated black women like Celie, who were essentially servants to their fathers and husbands. The austere set (of the director's own design) brilliantly illustrates that harshness with a floor-to-ceiling wall of raw wood planks hung with dozens of unfinished wooden chairs. We can practically feel the splinters in those rough boards and the hard seats of those stiff-backed chairs. In the earthy tones of Jane Cox's lighting design, the sun always seems to be setting on this fertile but unforgiving land.

Even the brown hues of Ann HouldWard's unadorned period costumes tell us that life was hard for black people in the early days of the 20th century. Since only the church (and maybe a juke joint deep in the woods) offers some comfort, it's only right that the show should open its heart with a joyous gospel number ("Mysterious Ways") that just about raises the roof. Between the celestial voices of the choir and the lively gossip of three wonderful Church Ladies (played to perfection by Carrie Compere, Bre Jackson and Rema Webb), church is the jolliest show in town. …

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