Review of 'The Color Purple' by Ed Katz 6-29-16
Walking into the Bernard Jacobs Theatre in the heart of Broadway, I wondered why this production of 'The Color Purple' was revived so soon after the original production, which ran for over two years, closed in 2008.
Fortunately, I was able to get that question answered by one of the show's composers and lyricists, Allee Willis, who said, "We saw the production in London with Cynthia (Erivo). We saw it done in a way we never imagined and we all felt that had to be brought here."
This triumphant revival won this year's Tony Awards for Best Musical Revival and
Best Actress in a Musical for Cynthia Erivo's astonishing performance as Celie.
Erivo is making her Broadway debut but she has starred in many productions on London's West End- and received several nominations for her portrayal of Celie in 2013.
However, I marveled at how this entire cast, even given several challenging vocal numbers, had not a weak voice among them. Every actor sings to the rafters- and that is rare to find.
So what is different about this 'Color Purple'?
It still tells the story of how an abused African-American woman learns to rise up and find her faith in herself- with help from her sister and her friends.
What is unique is how most of the other characters show growth, too. And that made this revival resonate so well emotionally. It wasn't done in a heavy-handed way (as in the more lumbering original production), yet Tony-nominated director John Doyle still made it both effective and powerful.
The show still includes several strong, larger-than-life women's roles, besides Erivo's Celie- most notably two: Shug Avery, now beautifully played by the talented singer and Broadway veteran Heather Headley (who, by all accounts, even outshines Jennifer Hudson's well-received original portrayal in the role); and the part of Sofia, with a force-of-nature performance by Tony-nominated Danielle Brooks- who is also a star of the Netflix hit TV series 'Orange is the New Black'.
The only two featured male roles, played by Isaiah Johnson, as Mister, and Kyle Scatliffe, as Harpo, also show real character growth as the story progresses. While Scatliffe almost plays Harpo over the top, he actually brings a winning combination of determination, strength, love- and comic relief. Yes, there are several genuinely funny moments in this 'Color Purple'- another welcome change from the original- as they serve to make the poignant moments even more powerful.
A small criticism is for the spare set design, rendered by the show's director, John Doyle. Doyle's sensitive direction brings a new, clear focus to this revival but his overly simple set actually hindered the power of a couple of the scenes- most keenly felt by the absence of Harpo's juke joint- but this is really a minor flaw in an otherwise stellar revival.
Cynthia Erivo's award-winning Broadway debut- which receives a rare show-stopping standing ovation in the second act (when was the last time you saw that?)- is not to be missed.
Combine that with a win for Best Musical Revival- all in this re-imagined, re-invigorated musical version of a marvelous and potent story- and it becomes clear it was the right move to revive this musical. Given these great results, you can't ask for much more than that.
And you know where you can get the best tickets for 'The Color Purple' and other shows, on or off Broadway: Applause Theater & Entertainment Service, 800.451.9930 or online at Applause!
Rating: 4-1/2 stars (out of 5)