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The Color Purple
The story is set in Georgia between 1909 and 1949. Celie is impregnated twice by her stepfather who gives the children away, then marries her off to Mister (Rufus Bonds, Junior), a bully who treats her like a slave through 30 years of marriage. It's no wonder she joins the men in falling in love with Shug Avery (Michelle Williams), a gorgeous bisexual singer. Celie's little sister Nettie (LaToya London), the only person she felt loved by, runs away from the lascivious stepfather but, because Mister hides her letters, Celie never knows that Nettie has accompanied the local minister's family to Africa where they work as missionaries. Thanks to Shug, Celie breaks away from Mister and, through the hard work and talent that have never deserted her, comes into her own.
A strong sub-plot presents Mister's son Harpo, a gentle man exuberantly portrayed by Stu James, and his super-size wife Sofia, in which Felicia P. Fields re-creates her original Broadway role as a feisty woman who tries to stand up for herself in the brutally segregated south and is beaten almost out of her senses because of it.
Marsha Norman's book mines the richness of the characters in Alice Walker's novel, though it's longer than necessary, perhaps to accommodate the variety of musical styles ranging from jazz to gospel created by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. The music is pleasant, lively and appropriate, interpreted by Donald Byrd's dynamic choreography.
Act II begins with Celie reading Nettie's letters from Africa. Even allowing for the costumes as figments of Celie's imagination, the African dancers look more Las Vegas than anything Celie could have dreamed of, especially since she's never seen Las Vegas either.
The glory in this production is the cast. Supporting Bayardelle are LaToya London, who outstandingly conveys Nettie's youthful idealism with luminous charm, Rufus Bonds, Jr., whose Mister ranges from dour and opporessive to an old man liberated by love, Stu James as Harpo, Fields and Williams as Sofia and Shug respectively. The Church Ladies are a delicious Greek Chorus Gospel Style and, in Act II, amusingly re-created African style. This production exploits the star power of Michelle Williams, familiar to audiences from Destiny's Child, and LaToya London from American Idol.
Director Gary Griffin's astute eye for character is reprised in this production, as are the production values discussed in— our Broadway review . That review also includes the production numbers.
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