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"The Color Purple" at the Bernard R. Jacobs Theatre
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"The Color Purple" at the Bernard R. Jacobs Theatre

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Scott Sanders Productions, Roy Furman, Oprah Winfrey
David Babani, Tom Siracusa
et al.

The Menier Chocolate Factory Production
Cynthia Erivo, Heather Headley, Danielle Brooks
The Color Purple
(The Color Purple Website)

Book by Marsha Norman
Music & Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray

Based on the Novel by Alice Walker &
the Warner Bros. / Amblin Entertainment Motion Picture

Isaiah Johnson, Kyle Scatliffe, Joaquina Kalukango
And an ensemble of actors/singers/dancers

Direction and Musical Staging: John Doyle

Bernard R. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th Street

Set Design: John Doyle
Costume Design: Ann Hould-Ward
Lighting Design: Jane Cox
Sound Design: Gregory Clarke
Hair Design: Charles G. LaPointe
Casting: Telsey + Company, Justin Huff, CSA
Music Supervisor: Catherine Jayes
Music Director/Conductor: Jason Michael Webb
Orchestrations: Joseph Joubert
Music Coordinators: Michael Keller/Michael Aarons
Production Stage Manager: Matt DiCarlo
Production Management: Juniper Street Productions, Inc.
Press: Polk & Co.
Advertising: SPOTCO
Digital: Situation Interactive
Marketing: Type A Marketing
General Management: Bespoke Theatricals

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 18, 2016 Matinee

I had missed seeing The Color Purple in its 2005 Broadway debut, so this new production, directed by John Doyle, was, in itself, a breathtaking first impression. Oprah Winfrey’s name is still on the lead line of Producers, but now there are a couple dozen groups and individuals involved. What a stunning experience, so unexpected, so refreshing. The present “streamlined” version of the show, with Mr. Doyle also designing the rough-hewn, uncluttered set, with bare, hard-backed chairs arranged on the rear stage wall, forces the eyes to focus on the actors’ nuanced facial and body gestures, those of grief, fatigue, pain, yearning, fear, revenge, aggression, love, and even, at times, pure joy. Marsha Norman’s book, based on the novel by Alice Walker, is exquisitely expanded with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray. But, it’s the unique cast of characters, bound through complex relationships, that grabs the viewer’s attention, then sings its way into our hearts. Without divulging the plot resolution of the show’s struggles, turmoils, entrapments, and estrangements, the essence of the story is poignant and impassioned. Mr. Doyle has directed tightly and, on occasion, time vanishes between songs and amidst dialogue. But, that’s what makes the show fluid and embracing, the magnification of torment and survival, loss and reunion, desperation and success, youth and maturity, all showcased through glorious gospel and cultural ballads.

Celie (Cynthia Erivo) and Nettie (Joaquina Kalukango) are 14 and 12 year-old sisters in rural Georgia, 1909, when the opening stage lights draw us in. Celie is pregnant a second time from being raped by the man she calls Pa (Kevin Morrow), and when the baby boy is born, Pa takes him away to an untold destiny. The terrifying Mister (Isaiah Johnson) comes looking to marry Nettie, but Pa and the girls have plans, as Nettie wants an education and career. Mister is coerced to settle for Celie, and Pa throws a barnyard cow in, to seal the deal. Celie has been told she’s ugly, so she expects and receives little love, except for her memories of Nettie, who disappears. Mister also has a son, Harpo (Kyle Scatliffe), a more gentle soul, who’s married to a wildfire, Sofia (Danielle Brooks), and when Harpo is persuaded to beat his wife into daily submission, the tables are turned, with Harpo running for cover. Mister’s backstory also includes an on-again, off-again affair with Shug Avery, nightclub singer (Heather Headley), who wears tight black curls, jewelry, and skinny, revealing dresses. An understated sub-plot includes a close affection between Celie and Shug, when Mister works on resuming his old romantic flame, with Celie waiting on the duo, hand and foot. This production is so riveting, that it seemed the plot was superfluous, in that the songs were belted out with such theatrical intensity and resonant vocals that a dramatic song cabaret would have sufficed. Yet, we were given so very much more.

Catherine Jayes, Music Supervisor, Jason Michael Webb, Music Director-Conductor, Joseph Joubert, Orchestrator, Mr. Doyle, Musical Staging, and their team of musicians deserve kudos for maximizing the impact of each song. Each character alone or with the ensemble transported the listener with spirituality, energy, and zest. Celie’s “I’m Here”, a showstopper, brought down the house. Ms. Erivo will be seen onstage for decades to come, with this superb Broadway breakout role, a charismatic tour de force performance. Shug’s “”Push Da Button”, sung with the Company, was yet another showstopper, sexy, sassy, and sizzling, ensuring Ms. Headley (who replaced the original Shug, Jennifer Hudson) more featured roles. Sofia’s “Hell No!” was the equivalent of a woman-power-driven, third showstopper, that’s how electric this show is. Ms. Brooks has now enshrined her name in gold, as well. At this Wednesday matinee, the crowd went crazy for these songs. Mister’s biggest number, sung with the men, was “Big Dog”, a powerhouse, and Harpo and Sofia wowed the audience with “Any Little Thing”, but Mr. Johnson and Mr. Scatliffe will be remembered more for their virtuosic acting, both seething and subtle. Ms. Kalukango as Nettie had a lovely first duet with Ms. Erivo’s Celie, “Huckleberry Pie”. Ms. Headley had glowingly introduced the title tune, but the show closed with a full Company reprise.

Mr. Doyle has created a must-see show, one that will, for a while, drain you of every emotion, but then envelop you with musical rapture and ebullience. Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes are especially vivid in two settings, in Africa and in a Georgia clothing design shop. Her rural Georgia costumes are in a purple-brown tinge. Jane Cox’s lighting is warm and vibrant, and Gregory Clark’s sound is perfectly clear, in dialogue and song. Charles G. LaPointe designed a must-see hairdo for Shug Avery, that vulnerable, nightclub siren. The Menier Chocolate Factory in Paris, where this version of The Color Purple was first produced, created a sure hit. Kudos to all.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at