The Color Purple

Based on the Novel by Alice Walker
Book by Marsha Norman
Music & Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray
Directed by Rush Trowell

Review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2014, Craig Nolan Highley.  All rights reserved.

The first thing you notice about CenterStage’s new production of The Color Purple is how gorgeous it is. The enormous set is simply decorated with patches of greenery and lit with a beautiful mix of colors that beautifully evokes rural Georgia at the beginning of the twentieth century.  It is a strong image to walk in on, and for the most part the show delivers on that first impression.

If you’ve only seen the movie, then you only know part of the story. Based more on Alice Walker’s original novel than on Steven Spielberg’s cinematic interpretation of it, this musical version tells the tale of Celie (Tymika Prince) and her struggles to survive the harsh realities of being poor, black and female in backward times.

And struggle, she does. Raised by a cruel father (Rush Trowell) who repeatedly rapes and impregnates her until she is fourteen, she is promptly sold to Mister (Gordon L. Crawford) who continues to abuse her. Mister also forbids her to see her beloved sister Nettie (Frances Lewis) after Nettie spurns his advances. Eventually she finds love with Sug Avery (Shajuana Motley), her husband’s sometimes-mistress. It’s not always an easy story to watch, as even comic relief characters like Sofia (Patricia Mathison) have the fight beaten out of them, but it’s a compelling journey to witness nonetheless.

Performances are strong across the board, but it’s the turns by Mathison and Prince that stand out. A. J. Green also gets some great moments in several roles (and a seemingly endless array of wigs). Particularly memorable, though, are the trio of Church Ladies (Erica D. Bledshaw, Alycia Underwood, and Angela Williams-Bruckner) that serve as a Greek Chorus to move the story along. They are an absolute joy to watch.

As far as the material goes, the show has a very strong first act. Louisville-born Marsha Norman’s libretto works well with the gospel and blues-infused songs by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray to set up an appropriate period feel. Sadly the momentum doesn’t keep going into the second act, where the story manages to both drag in some places and feel rushed in others.

Overall though, it is a successful production that will probably please fans of the material a bit more than those who are unfamiliar but it’s so well performed and staged that any criticisms really feel like nit picking!

Featuring Olivia Allen, Troy Bell, Michael Bolden, Erica D. Bledshaw, Bryson Brewer, Gordon L. Crawford, Toraze Davis, A. J. Diggs, Cadence Diggs, Rebekah Lynn Dow, Marcus Fisher, Isaiah Flowers, Lexi Flowers, Frank Goodloe III, A. J. Green, Yolanda Green, Reggie Johnson, Tiffany L. Jones, Frances Lewis, Patricia Mathison, Jeff McQueen, Kyndia Motley, Shajuana Motley, Torinae Norman, LaJuan Odom, Tonia Mayfield Phelps, Tymika Prince, John Sands, Dasia Taylor, Marcus Todd, Rush Trowell, Alycia Underwood, Angela Williams, Angela Williams-Buckner, Grace Wilson, Cassaundra Young, and Morgan Young.


The Color Purple

March 20-April 6, 2014

CenterStage at JCC
Linker Auditorium
3600 Dutchmans Lane
Louisville, KY 40205