The Color Purple. T'Shan Williams (Celie) and Danielle Fiamanya (Nettie). Photo: Manuel Harlan
This musical is based on the book of the same name, written by Alice Walker in 1982, made into a film in 1985 and converted into a musical, opening on Broadway in 2005. Seen only once before in the UK (Menier Chocolate Factory in 2013) theatregoers will count themselves very lucky if they can catch this Leicester Curve/Birmingham Hippodrome production – though the quality of this fine show should see it follow the likes of other recent Curve productions, White Christmas and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole into the West End.
The show is the story of black people in the rural south of the USA. At its centre is Celie who we first meet as a 14-year-old girl, forced by her father to give away her second baby – the second baby he has fathered with her. In the course of the show gets ‘married’ to Mister, an unkind, brooding man, loses her sister Nettie, gains a feisty sister-in-law in the shape of Sofia and for the first time finds a genuine love with the night club singer Shug Avery.
It’s a glorious story which, with its all-black cast of characters, avoids the clichéd dichotomy of the evil white master against poor blacks. This is liberating, enabling us to see, at one time, the dehumanising effect slavery/segregation had on its subjects but at the same time the humanity and hope that still shine through in spite of the privations that Celie and everyone around her face.
But this is only made possible by a subtle script and score – a gorgeous mix of soul, jazz, bebop, gospel and blues - which avoid sentimentality and sensation, lacing sadness and tragedy with wit and humour.
And a cast to die for!
Very much an ensemble piece with multiple roles for some of the performers, nonetheless, mentions must be made.
Ako Mitchell for his uncompromisingly mean Mister, Danielle Fiamanya for her delicate touch in the role of Nettie, Joanna Francis for her portrayal of the free and easy Shug with her powerful voice. Sofia must be a great role to play and Karen Mavundukure brings out her in-your-face vivacity and sisterhood to the max in a huge performance, complemented by Simon-Anthony Rhoden as the rather hapless but so likeable character of Harpo. Perola Congo is a delight as Squeak and I loved the ‘Greek chorus’ of Jarene (Landi Oshinowo), Doris (Danielle Kassarate) and Darlene (Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah) who, now and then, stole the show.
But the star of this show, without question, is T’Shan Williams. On stage almost all the time her presence through the ups and downs of her life story has a calm and beauty befitting the role with a stunning singing voice to match.
A clever set based on the tall walls of a wooden barn adapted cleverly to become, among other things a jail, a church, a stoop and Celie’s shop is just right for this production as was the designer Alex Lowde’s decision to make costumes merely ‘suggestive’ of the periods involved, well justified by the finished product. The clever use of lighting effects and projections complement the whole.
Congratulations to Director Tinuke Craig, cast and crew for this wonderful production!
Photo: Manuel Harlan