Categories: Arts Theater

‘The Color Purple’ is true and deep

Love. Family. Redemption. Respect. These are the themes powerfully and often joyfully touched on in “The Color Purple,” now at the Orpheum Theatre.

The tour is born of the 2015 Broadway revival directed by John Doyle in his signature minimalist style that won that season’s Tony for Best Revival. Doyle’s vision also included designing the set — an evocative wall of ascending chairs suggesting both rest and movement.

Happily, he did not require the actors to play instruments on stage (as in his revivals of “Company” and “Sweeney Todd”). Nor did he require elaborate dance numbers, providing “staging” in lieu of working with a choreographer.

The result is a focus on character and song that serves the production well.

Marsha Norman’s book for the musical assumes audience familiarity with the novel by Bay Area author Alice Walker and its film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg; things move at a rapid clip, pausing occasionally for breath and then speeding on.

The pauses, however, are glorious, particularly when the breath comes from Adrianna Hicks as Celie or Carla R. Stewart as Shug Avery, whose voices rise from the stage, past the lights, to heaven itself.

The entire company — including J. Daughtry and Carrie Compere as Harpo and Sofia, and Gavin Gregory as the genuinely hateful Mister — are sublime singers, but these two women are divine.

The story begins a century ago but resonates even more strongly today than when the musical debuted in 2005. It remains painful to see how little women’s lives mattered, and how little black women’s lives mattered, even within their own families.

After the beautifully stylized birth of Celie’s second child — from rape and presumed incest — her “Pa” takes the baby from her and waives her away with a small hand gesture, leaving her in pain and grief with the admonishment to resume her chores.

It’s one of many scenes — including the attempted rape of Celie’s beloved sister Nettie and the assault on Sofia — that tear at the heart and light a rageful fire in the soul.

Blessedly there are also moments of joy.

Celie, always falsely told she is ugly, finds acceptance with Shug in the sweetly hopeful “What About Love?” It’s one of the better songs from the score by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, which also includes the sassy “Miss Celie’s Pants” and Sofia’s definitive “Hell No!”

“The Color Purple” travels with challenging baggage, but it is Celie’s redemptive aria that sends you into the night: “I’m thankful for loving who I really am. I’m beautiful. Yes, I’m beautiful, and I’m here.”

REVIEW
The Color Purple
Where: Orpheum, 1192 Market St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes May 17
Tickets: $40 to $246
Contact: www.shnsf.com

Robert Sokol

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