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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Bringing The Color Purple to the Stage with Joyous Song and Truthful Storytelling!

Sometimes when you are very excited for something, it fails to live up to your expectations. This is NOT the case with The Color Purple currently running at the Citadel Theatre. As I wrote earlier, I loved Alice Walker's novel and I am happy to report that the production is everything and more than I could have hoped for. From the first few seconds of the show, when Celie (Tara Jackson) and Nettie (Allison Edwards-Crewe) sing a child's rhyme together, you know that musically you are going to be treated to something magnificent. This grows as the full cast joins them onstage and the world of Celie is created. The power and beauty of this cast in their vocals is majestic. It's the kind of music sung so well that it makes you want to lift from your seat. The Citadel has done an incredible job of bringing together this cast which has no weak links, each voice expressive, joyful and strong. Kudos to the cast and to Music Director Floydd Ricketts for creating such amazing sound.

In terms of the story, this production ably rises to the challenge of telling that too. The iconic characters from the novel are portrayed with respect and honesty. At the centre of it, as Celie, Tara Jackson is a marvel. Not only does she possess an incredible vocal instrument, able to handle the softness and strength of the character, but her emotionally journey is crafted and layered. On more than one moment did she bring me to tears, and her version of I'm Here made me want to leap from my seat with cheers. As Shug Avery, Karen Burthwright is a sassy foil to the shy and quiet Celie. She is everything Shug should be - sexy, worldly, and a brilliant performer. You know why everyone wants to be with Shug. Her Push Da Button is a hot, joyous number which celebrates sex where everyone has a good time.

There are so many things I loved about this show. I loved the hilarious Church Ladies (Masini McDermott, Maiko Munroe, and Sarah Nairne) whose harmonies were as tight as their coming timing. It was delightful to watch Sophia and Harpo's (Janelle Cooper and Andrew Broderick) irresistible attraction. It was heart-breaking to watch Sophia's journey, and Cooper is simply terrific - equally able to play the strong moments as she is the weaker moments. As Mister, Ryan Allen has the difficult job of playing the villain in the first act and redeeming himself in the second act. I think he does so, yet does so without letting himself off easy. His Mister Song reminds us that people are made the way they are through the circumstances of their lives, and his desire to change what he has become is palpable. I loved that the characters were allowed to have shades of grey.

Overall, the show flows beautifully. Director Kimberly Rampersad has done a masterful job of keeping this epic story moving from moment to moment, making sure that the emotion is real and earned. Her choreography is fun, sexy and organic, helping to move the action along and never feeling contrived. (Interesting side-note: On the night I saw it, the show had to be stopped about 10 minutes before intermission because of a medical emergency in the audience. Once the emergency was dealt with, the show picked up from a few moments before it had to be stopped, and this interruption did not affect the flow or the audience's connection to the story. It was as though we were reading the novel and set the book down and picked it back up. We were back in as though nothing had happened. Now that's the sign of a well done show!).

If you can't tell... I loved the show. Whether you've read the book or seen the movie or not, I think that it's a wonderful story that will grab you. The music alone is enough to recommend it, you are unlikely to hear an ensemble that sings so well together this season, but it's also so much more than that.

The Color Purple runs until October 13, 2019 at the Citadel Theatre. Click here for tickets.

Photo Credit: Ian Jackson; EPIC Photography

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