Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Last night I saw The Color Purple at the Belk Theater (pardon me, that's Oprah Winfrey Presents The Color Purple). It's certainly one of those musicals we've all heard a lot about since the stage show debuted in December 2005. Thankfully many successful Broadway shows go on national tours so we don't have to live in or visit New York to experience them. Last night's show lived up to the hype.

Even though Fantasia didn't play the role of Celie, the actress who did, Kenita R. Miller, did a fantastic job (I can't imagine Fantasia doing better, other than the obvious star power her name brings). Fantasia is scheduled to perform when the show travels to Chicago, Greensboro, and Atlanta next month, according to the touring schedule. Even though those are the only three cities she's listed on for the remainder of the year, I can't help but wonder why she isn't doing the run in Charlotte, which is where she lives a large part of the time (I understand her doing the Greensboro show since it's near her hometown of High Point). Fortunately, this show is bigger than any one star.

The last time I saw a Broadway show at the Belk was The Lion King two years ago (I've seen smaller shows since), and The Color Purple may have topped it, which isn't easy to do because The Lion King is an incredible production. Last night was opening night, featuring a 7:30 p.m. show that seemed fairly close to being a sellout. The crowd was probably the most diverse you'll find at a show at the Belk, which is a testament to The Color Purple's drawing power.

I, like many people, grew up watching the movie. But I, unlike many people, have never read Alice Walker's book. So my comparisons and expectations were based on a very well done two-and-a-half-hour movie that was directed by Steven Spielberg and featured an all-star cast. Which is the same movie that when I was a kid I promise you my older sister played every single day for about a year. So I have vivid memories of scenes from the movie, and we all know its classic lines.

The musical differs from the movie, but in a good way. It tells the same story, but doesn't try to solely replicate it scene by scene. Like the movie, the musical starts off with Celie giving birth and ends with her being reunited with her kids and sister Nettie (Latoya London). But in between, the musical creates its own identity. The singing, above all, is superb. Plus, the dancing is as great as you'll see, ranging from styles you would've seen during that period to moves that look like what we do today. And since this is described as "The Musical About Love," this is where it ventures a little from the movie, or I should say, takes a particular element from the movie and makes it the foundation of the musical.

Or maybe I just never looked at the movie as being that much about love. Perhaps the love was overshadowed by Celie's rough life. But in the musical it's on full display: Celie's love for her sister; Harpo's (Stu James) love for Sophia (Felicia P. Fields), which is also very sexual and hilarious; and Celie and Shug Avery's love for each other. In fact Celie and Shug Avery's love for each other has very interesting connotations, but that's all I'll say because I don't want to be a spoiler for those who haven't seen the musical. Shug Avery (played by Reva Rice) has an even bigger role in the musical, and her character is as sexy and feisty as ever ("All the women lock up their husbands when Shug Avery comes to town," one of the characters said).

I don't think there could've been a better choice of venue for this show than the beautiful Belk Theater. And the production of this show exceeded my expectations. The set and costume changes were flawless, which is important for such a visual story with an onstage cast of about 30. The production took us from Mister's house, to Harpo's house, to the corn fields, to Nettie's village in Africa in such a vivid, well-timed manner.

If you see this show, you'll not only thoroughly enjoy it, but you'll have a whole new perspective on the story you've known (or thought you knew) for so many years. You have several chances to catch The Color Purple this week (you'll have to visit the website for ticket availability):

Wednesday, August 26, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, August 27, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, August 28, 8 p.m.
Saturday, August 29, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sunday, August 30, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Tickets range from $35 to $135, and the Friday and Saturday shows are more expensive than the other showtimes. Click here for more details.


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