This production of The Color Purple is being co-produced by The Leicester Curve and The Birmingham Hippodrome, and is its first major UK outing since it debuted on Broadway in 2005. Originally based on the 1982 novel by Alice Walker, the book became a Steven Spielberg film 3 years later and shot Oprah Winfrey to stardom. It has since become a two-time Tony Winning musical and has starred such names as Cynthia Erivo, Jennifer Hudson and LaChanze.
The story spans 40 years and follows Celie through her discovery of self-worth. She lives a life of oppression, domestic violence and sexism and has her innocence and education taken away from her at an early age. As she grows up, we see the journey of her family and personal relationships, her sexuality and beliefs.
The show is an odd one. Some would argue that, as a musical, it simply doesn’t work. Filled with songs which either come out of nowhere or don’t really complete an idea or motive, in a lot of ways, stop you from really engaging with crucial characters.
Once you look past the initial story, which is bound to spark emotion in anyone, there are a few things about this particular production which need work.
There are some relationships that feel totally immersive, whilst others feel shallow. The relationship between Celie (T’Shan Williams) and Shug Avery (Joanna Francis) feels one-sided and even in their most personal moments, Francis doesn’t seem totally engaged. Saying that, her vocals are outstanding and she oozes confidence and sass when needed.
It’s as though some scenes received a lot more attention than others during the rehearsal process. The consistency of inter-character relationships are lacking at points, and it seems the understanding of how each character fits into their world has been forgotten about during some moments.
The idea behind Alex Lowde’s set design is interesting. He wants the space to transition around Celie, showing us that she is unable to create and carry her own journey. It works, on the whole, although there is clearly a lot of upstage space which could be used to give a lot more depth.
What cannot be faulted is the level of vocal talent within the entire company. From big gospel numbers to intricate harmonies, especially between Doris (Danielle Kassareté), Darlene (Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah) and Jarene (Landi Oshinowo), the sound they create as a collective is enough to give you shivers. The melodies are undeniably beautiful, and played wonderfully by the 7 strong band, even if the volume does need to be ramped up to create some more power for the cast.
Miss Celie is played beautifully by T’Shan. This role definitely shows off her immense talent better than previous roles she has played. The scenes she shares with her sister Nettie (Danielle Fiamanya) are some of the most beautiful moments in the show, and her sheer emotional relief during the reunion left the audience in tears (including Danielle!).
The Color Purple is at The Curve until 13th July before transferring to Birmingham until 20th July.
Review: Evie Freeman
Photo: Manuel Harlan