I had the pleasure of watching The Color Purple just a few years ago for the first time. What I remember from that first viewing — the beautiful theatric scenes, powerful musical solos, rich storyline — I witnessed once more during Tuesday night’s show at the Winspear Opera House.
If you’re not familiar with the story of The Color Purple, the novel by Alice Walker or the movie adaptation by Steven Spielberg are two great ways to get acquainted. It’s a tale spanning over forty years in the life of Celie, an African-American woman in the South who survives bigotry and abuse. After Celie’s father marries her off to a debasing husband named “Mister,” things go from bad to worse, leaving Celie to find companionship from different people in her life. She perseveres, holding on to her dream of one day being reunited with her sister in Africa. It’s a whirlwind of a story that’ll make you laugh, cry, and sing along through its performance.
You’re greeted with a monochromatic wooden stage with various chairs scattered and hanging from the back wall. At first, it might seem questionable – a musical with such a tragic story to be told only with a few chairs? But as the story progressed and Celie’s transformation blossomed, you’ll discover that the chairs are used as delicate details and transitions through the performance. There were some innovative ideas, like displaying them as gated bars when Celie’s friend Sophia was in jail and shovels when the men were working and building. They also make great props for the musical numbers like Shug Avery’s frisky “Push da Button” number where she and the cast used the chairs as dance platforms. It just comes to show that sometimes doing less is more. With such a minimalistic approach for the stage design, it leaves room to focus more on the characters and their growth through their journey.
The most transformative was, of course, Celie, played by the talented Mariah Lyttle. Despite being dealt a difficult hand in life, Celie keeps a relatively positive attitude. Mariah’s gospel voice booms through the opera house as you watch Celie grow from an abused housewife to a fashion designer owning her own business. Her ending solo “I’m Here” showcased both Mariah’s talent as a singer and performer as she dominates the spotlight, receiving positive ‘whoops’ and ‘hollers’ from the audience. Her voice is well-matched with the rest of the cast. Sandie Lee as Shug Avery – another star performer – sang a harmonies duo with Celie during their piece “What About Love?” which brought a tear to my eye. You get the opportunity to dive deep into the emotions of these characters through their songs and theatrical acts, a pivotal highlight of a successful musical, in my opinion.
The Color Purple delivers a beautiful message about the hardships we might face in life, but also about how to faith and love for yourself to overcome them. Celie, Shug, Sofia, and Nettie all portray what it means to have female empowerment and how to become your own person. It’s a look at how far we’ve come in the past hundred years, and a reminder of the work we still have to do as women in 2020.
The Color Purple runs until this Sunday, Jan. 12, at the Winspear Opera House. Want to stay up-to-date with the latest things to do this year? Sign up for our new weekly e-newsletter Things to Do, launching this February.