Broadway’s The Color Purple is a truly uplifting theater experience. Directed by John Doyle with music by Brenda Russell and Allee Willis, this latest re-telling of Alice Walker’s seminal novel is buoyed by a stellar cast that includes Hollywood heavyweights and theater veterans who deliver the goods from the minute the curtain goes up. Tackling a story this familiar and controversial is no easy task, but the actors meet and exceed all expectations.
Cynthia Erivo stars as Celie, the long-suffering wife of the brutal Mister, and gives a truly mesmerizing performance. From the innocence of her younger days playing with sister Nettie, to the subdued and stifled young women struggling under the yoke of an abusive man, Erivo captures every nuance, every subtlety, every facet of a complex character who transitions through so many life phases in this story. Her voice radiates with joy and looms with pain throughout the show and she’s truly an unforgettable performer. As the dynamic Shug Avery, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson conveys the right amount of sass, strength and inner conflict while playing off of both Erivo and Isiah Johnson (Mister) with flawless ease. They are the stars in a show that has no shortage of tremendous talent.
The biggest scene-stealer in the production is the dynamic Danielle Brooks (“Orange Is the New Black”) as Sofia. Delivering the audience-pleasing lines (“You told Harpo to beat me!”) and making a well-known and beloved character all her own, Brooks is the show’s biggest revelation. She’s at the core of the production’s most humorous moments and many of its more painful ones, and her chemistry with Kyle Scatliffe’s Harpo is a joy to watch.
The Color Purple has been a staple in so many households and the book and film are so deeply ingrained into our culture. This latest production offers a different glimpse into a world we know so well, and it doesn’t reinvent the story in as much as it revisits and amplifies it. The performances and the overall production add gravitas to what is already intense subject matter, but the pain and sometimes harrowing experience of watching this story unfold can be a truly cathartic experience for anyone in the audience.