Friday, October 6, 2023

The Color Purple - Ivoryton Playhouse

The production of The Color Purple at the Ivoryton Playhouse is a highly satisfying piece of musical theater.  The reason is the marvelous casting of three women in significant roles.  Andrea Fleming is magnificent as Celie, whose difficult and hardscrabble life is at the center of the show.  She has a steely determination and focus.  You can feel her intensity as she continually triumphs over adversity.  Renee Jackson’s Shug Avery, a world-weary singer with a devil-may-care attitude, sashays across the stage exuding a sexual brashness.  She is not introduced until the latter part of Act 1, but when she finally appears, she commands our attention.  Sheniqua Trotman, a Connecticut Critics Circle award winner for the 2014 staging of Ivoryton’s Dreamgirls, is outstanding as the fiery, non-nonsense, comical Sofia.  Other notable actors include Christian McQueen as the gruff, boorish, and menacing yet, ultimately, sympathetic Mister; Cedrick Ekra as the good-time, weak-willed Harpo; and Mairya Joaquin as the pure, self-sacrificing Nettie.


Andrea Fleming as Celie.


The story revolves around Celie, a poor African-American woman in the Deep South and her arduous.  She is married off to the uncaring, belligerent Mister, who sees her as someone to cook, clean, and take care of him and his household.  Her beloved sister, Nettie, once set to go off to college to become a teacher, has mysteriously vanished.  Other people that intersect her life include her stepson, Harpo, and his overbearing wife, Sofia; and the femme fatale, Shug Avery.  During the ensuing years Celie’s faith, inner strength and resolve keep her head high and moving forward as she is confronted with racism and sexism and a life that continually beats her down.  In the end, though, there is liberation from her struggles, independence in life, and a long coming reunion with loved ones.


The score by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray combines gospel-tinged songs, heartfelt ballads, raucous honky tonk, and African melodies.  It has two luscious signature songs—“Too Beautiful for Words” and “What About Love?”  They, along with the other numbers from the show, are sung with a powerful passion that fills the venerable theater.


Members of the cast of The Color Purple.

Book writer Marsha Norman has taken Alice Walker’s acclaimed Pulitzer Prize winning novel and pared it down to its essence.  She gives breath to the assorted characters and successfully brings out such universal themes as love, loss, family and female empowerment.


Director/Choreographer Todd L. Underwood provides a sure hand in staging the show.  He has carved out a straightforward, spare, and self-contained musical.  He concentrates on the characters, their interactions, and the score, which heightens the drama and focuses our attention on the foremost components of the musical.  The Scenic Design by Cully Long, an inverted pyramid of stacked chairs, center stage, is somewhat of a distraction and its meaning confusing.  Elizabeth A. Saylor’s costume designs cover three distinct time frames.  The African garb, with ther unique patterns and bright colors, are especially pleasing.


The Color Purple, worth a trip to the Ivoryton Theatre.  Click here for dates, times, and ticket information.

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