The Menier Chocolate Factory’s revival of The Color Purple was one of those productions that I tried but failed to see in London in 2013. Thankfully, my recent New York trip provided me with an opportunity to see it during its hugely successful Broadway transfer.
As someone who hasn’t read Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (a literary crime I know) or seen the 1985 film version, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this musical. Set in Georgia, beginning in 1909, the story centres on Celie, who we see grow up from a young girl abused by her step-father (resulting in two children who he then takes from her), passed off to a cruel older husband who treats her like his slave, to a strong, independent and confident business woman. Despite everything she endures, Celie remains strong; a woman you deeply admire and care about.
A strong actress was certainly needed to play her and to lead this production. Luckily for me, British actress Cynthia Erivo has travelled with the show to New York and she is absolutely stunning as Celie. An unknown actress to American audiences on her arrival there, she is certainly a force of the Broadway theatre stage now and all the praise she has received for the role over the years is justified.
Erivo conveys every emotion Celie experiences over her life perfectly and by the time she hits the final, powerful notes of her solo song I’m Here, the rapturous reception she received from the audience felt as though it had been building for the last couple of hours! It’s simply one of the finest stage performances I’ve seen and Erivo clearly gives it her heart and soul.
The production also contains some other fantastic performances. Danielle Brooks (from Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black) plays Sophia with so much humour and a fire that had my audience cheering her along all the way, with every “Hell no” she uttered. The wife of Harpo, son of Celie’s husband, she is the opposite of the young Celie; she will not be treated as a slave by her husband and is without a doubt the boss of their relationship. Kyle Scatliffe (who impressed me in 2013 in the Young Vic’s The Scottsboro Boys), is wonderful too as Harpo and despite their arguments, the bond of affection they share is never in doubt.
Jennifer Hudson was still in the cast playing Shug Avery during my visit and she did a fantastic job. Shug is a fascinating character; one who enters as Celie’s husband’s former lover. You don’t expect to like her and yet you do and the love between her and Celie grows. Ultimately it is Shug who helps Celie to forge a new life for herself, free from anyone else’s control. Heather Headley will, I’m sure, continue to make the role shine.
Although not every song is a memorable one, there were some musical numbers within this production that I thoroughly enjoyed and the soundtrack is worth the investment for I’m Here alone. Seeing The Color Purple in America also certainly added to my enjoyment and experience, with the audience’s responses and reactions far greater than I imagine they were in London. Their love of this production was something you could feel in the auditorium.
Powerful, moving, funny and inspiring, The Color Purple was a wonderful night at the theatre and is something not to be missed, particularly for Erivo’s performance, which will be one of the greats to remember.
The Color Purple continues its run at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (242 West 45th St.) and is currently booking until 2nd October 2016. $35 rush tickets are available in the morning at the theatre each day. Running-time is 2 hours 20 minutes (including one interval). For more information, visit its website.