Monday, March 14, 2016

The Color Purple is a Religious Experience!

Two Sundays ago, I went to church twice: Once at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian, and again at the Jacobs Theatre. This phrase is often used liberally, but John Doyle's revival of The Color Purple is unequivocally a religious experience. I'm not one to preach, but the Holy Spirit was in that place. From the opening chorus number, "Mysterious Ways," it is evident that this company can saang! John Doyle has done it again. He has taken a show that was clunky in it's first incarnation, stripped away everything but the necessities, and presented a production that is emotionally charged in it's simplicity. The set is a simple wooden floor and a tri-section back wall with simple wooden chairs that can be moved by the cast. Immediately, the audience understands the setting: a small Southern farm town with caring people and a simple way of life.

The Color Purple is a beloved American story that we all know so I won't bore you with a summary. Let's jump to the performances, shall we? A highlight for me is anything involving the church ladies. If you grew up in church like I did, you'll know that is where you find some of the biggest gossips. But they mean well of course, even as they speculate about poor child Celie, that fine Mister, Sofia, and Harpo. Jennifer Hudson is selling the tickets, but in the role of Shug Avery, she is not the biggest powerhouse in the show. Her characterization of Shug is aloof and disconnected at first, but her heart shines through as she connects emotionally to Celie in "Too Beautiful For Words." She also carries the title song, my personal favorite. Danielle Brooks, whom I love in Orange is the New Black, left me utterly shocked. Her Sofia is not the tough, battered woman from the novel, but a diva who steals the show. When she takes the stage in "Hell No" you'll see what I'm talking about. It's Danielle/Sofia's world and we're just living in it. She has Harpo (Kyle Scatliffe) wrapped around her little finger and their relationship becomes a model for how to be a real man and treat a woman with respect. I won't give away the details but "Any Little Thing" is showstopper.

This brings us Ms. Cynthia Erivo. She is giving the female performance of the season. Her transformation from a meek, abused woman to a confidant, take-charge, entrepreneur is a master class in character work. Celie's changes are subtle until she curses Mister, and that is when she is reborn. When Ms. Erivo saunters onto the stage in her homemade lemon yellow pants, you would think you were watching Tina Turner. I don't intend to sound hyperbolic; that is just the confidence she exudes. I've never quite seen a eleven o'clock number as powerful a "I'm Here" except for maybe "Rose's Turn". Cynthia's interpretation of the song is quite reflective in the beginning, that is until the bridge. It builds, and it builds, and it builds until the audience is on their feet before the final exclamation. If you read my reviews often, you'll know that I'm a big cryer, especially in musicals. But this was something different. I had goosebumps of the variety that I've only ever gotten during particularly rousing renditions of church hymns or Whitney Houston's "The Star Spangled Banner." If you do not see Cynthia Erivo in this role, you will have missed one of the greatest female performances of all time. Think LuPone in Gypsy, McDonald in Porgy and Bess, and Ripley in Next to Normal....she's that good.

To put it simply, this a story of forgiveness. The show and it's source material carry numerous themes, but at the heart, this work teaches us not only how to forgive, but it also shows us how much lighter our load in life can be when we forgive those who trespass against us. My favorite lyric comes from the title track...."Like the Color Purple, where do it come from? Now my eyes are open, look what God has done." Enough said. The only thing that could've made the performance better is if the cast performed an encore of "Amazing Grace" or "How Great Thou Art". But then again, how would the Jacobs operate without its roof?

No comments:

Post a Comment