The gift of The Color Purple | Theater | Indy Week
Pin It

The gift of The Color Purple 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY PAUL KOLNIK

Oprah Winfrey Presents The Color Purple

Durham Performing Arts Center
Through May 17

The prodigal catalytic character Shug Avery gets to utter the title line of Alice Walker's 1983 Pulitzer-winning novel, the touring musical version of which is now appearing at Durham Performing Arts Center as Oprah Winfrey Presents The Color Purple. The wild-living Shug believes "it pisses God off" when people walk by the gift of color (song, dance, freedom, love) in life's drab fields without noticing it and rejoicing. If you are scanning the field of musicals for something demanding its royal prerogative of attention, look at this Purple.

Adapted by Marsha Norman from Walker's wrenching, hopeful book, this musical play has some of the darkest shadows and coarsest cruelties lightened and some sexually bright spots dimmed, but it remains remarkably true to the spirit of Walker's novel, and does no violence to her complex explorations of the varieties of love and their relationship to freedom. The long, weaving lines of the story stay intact, and the inventive staging makes Walker's paean to the epistolary word even more powerful than when one reads it. The music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray occasionally stray over the line into sentimentality, but most of the songs are wonderful and the music fresh—with several nods to Gershwin's great Porgy and Bess. The Color Purple is not fully operatic like Porgy, but it rises repeatedly to that level in the performances.

Standby Phyre Hawkins, who sang Celie on opening night, was wonderful in both her acting and her singing—believable at every stage of her difficult story. The feisty Sofia is magnificently embodied by Felicia P. Fields, and Angela Robinson is fine as the sexy Shug—and not just when she's shaking her bugle beads and her Josephine Baker headdress. Rufus Bonds Jr.'s Mister could use a little more of an edge, but Brandon Victor Dixon as his son Harpo was adorable. The supporting cast is all strong, and they can all dance. Because it is Donald Byrd's choreography that fuels the force of this production, as much as the music or lyrics, that is a good thing. There are some spectacular dance pieces, but all the movement throughout is freighted with emotional information, and takes this show beyond the standard for musicals.

Sadly, the sound in the theater, while not terrible, was not great. The lively orchestra was sometimes allowed to drown the voices, and the mixing of multiple voices seemed to be a problem. And what is the deal with all the sound cables draped from the balconies? However, the technical possibilities of the house are put to great use by the flats, scrims, projections and lighting which create a vivid world with several settings. Overall, this is a deeply satisfying production of a deeply moving story.


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Theater

Twitter Activity


I'm wondering why Dorfman specifically chose the Death and the Maiden quartet - deriving from the song Der Tod und …

by trishmapow on Forgiving is not forgetting in Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden (Theater)

Most Read

Most Recent Comments

I'm wondering why Dorfman specifically chose the Death and the Maiden quartet - deriving from the song Der Tod und …

by trishmapow on Forgiving is not forgetting in Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden (Theater)

I'm not a theatergoer, so it was off my usual path to see this production. The small/ mighty cast approached …

by Aims Arches on A Superlative Adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando Packs Centuries of Insight into a Fleet Eighty Minutes (Theater)

I personally am remarkably intrigued to see this production but since I can't drive myself to it I will sadly …

by Ryan Oliveira on David Harrower Lives Up to His Name in Blackbird, a Challenging Portrait of Abuse (Theater)

I wholeheartedly agree with the position that there should be more structured, civic support for the thriving arts community in …

by ShellByars on Common Ground Closed. Sonorous Road Might Be Next. Is It Curtains for Small, Affordable Theaters in the Triangle? (Theater)

© 2017 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation