The Color Purple is an award winning book by Alice Walker, and an excellent and amazing read that I highly recommend (ditto the 1985 film). But with much disturbing and depressing subject matter, I was not sure how successfully Broadway would manage to adapt this book into a musical — or if I wanted to start out the Holiday Season by watching it. Even so, it was one of the shows I was looking forward to the most this season.
I definitely was not expecting to exit the Center for Performing Arts Tuesday with a smile on my face, but that is exactly what happened. From the very beginning of the show the CPA was filled with bodies swaying to the music, toe tapping and jiving in the seats. The show is emotional and moving, sexy, violent, sweet, heartbreaking and heartwarming. The show does touch on the hardships that Celie must endure through much of her life, and the horrifying events that lead up to her losing her children and her sister at age 14 (yes, 14). Most people who have read the book or seen the film will always remember the truly horrendous things that happened to her – but many people do not remember on what an uplifting note the story ends. And this ending is only the exclamation at the end of a very uplifting story. The unredeemable are redeemed in the story, the downtrodden are lifted up, and the meek rise to the top. No one rides off into the sunset to live happily ever after here, but hope and faith are restored to Celie, and there was not a dry eye in the audience when it was over. The last few minutes of the show were filled with sniffling and inconspicuous eye wiping – but they were all happy tears! What better Thanksgiving story than this – if Celie has something to be thankful for, so do we all.
The production itself is the best of the season so far. Every detail was top notch; it is hard to pick out any one thing to gush over. Set design, lighting, costumes, it was all great… but this is the first time I was really, really impressed with the choreography. Donald Byrd was nominated for a 2006 Tony award for The Color Purple, and it is evident why. He impressively draws the audience in to participate in a lively church service in the South, we work on the farm with the handsome, shirtless field workers, we join in with the joyful dances of the 20s to the 40s, and then we sit in awe as we watch the native African dancers perform their unfamiliar but breathtakingly beautiful moves. Every dance was simply outstanding.
Every single actor is incredible in the show. Everyone from stars Dayna Jarae Dantzler (Celie), Edward C. Smith (Mister), Taprena Augustine (Shug Avery) and the awesome Pam Trotter (Sofia), down to every single background actor – it was all played to perfection. There were often anywhere between 17 – 22 people on stage at a time, but they were all set in smaller groups playing perfect individual characters so that you wanted to take in every individual little scene at once. The singing, dancing and acting talent on stage at any one time was just unbelievable.
The show is playing through November 28 and I definitely recommend you take a break from the holiday rush to see it. It was a packed house on Tuesday and everyone had a great time. Despite some disturbing content, it is really a joyous story about love and triumph over life’s obstacles and the restoration of faith; it is about forgiveness and redemption, and most of all, never ever ever giving up hope.
It is my favorite of Broadway San Jose’s shows so far this season. Go see it. You will leave the theater happy and ready for the Holidays.
The Color Purple
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets: 415 792-4111
Not recommended for young children. Fine for high school age at parent’s discretion. Some scenes depicting or insinuating sexual, physical and psychological abuse.