Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 11, 2009

The Color Purple

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through June14, 2009
by Bernadette Johnson

For those who have read the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel The Color Purple by Alice Walker or seen the film version with Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, that's a step ahead of the game, because this fast-paced musical panorama of Southern U.S. life in the 1930s is a whirlwind of color and sound demanding the full attention of its audience.

There are so many characters to keep track of, the years flit by and many subplots are interwoven. A Greek chorus style trio of matronly church ladies is intended to bridge the time warps, but much of their performance and their explanations were lost due to over-amplified sound.

The story revolves around Celie, played by Kenita Miller, who is the embodiment of the oppressed black female. Poor and uneducated, she is raped by the man she believes to be her father, her children are taken from her, and at 14, she is given away to a man she calls "Mister" (Rufus Bonds, Jr.), who abuses her physically and emotionally.

Hands down and hats off (and that's saying a lot because hats take on a life of their own in this production), Felicia Fields as Sophia, Celie's daughter-in-law (a role that earned her a Tony nomination on Broadway), is the real show-stealer. From the hilarious posturings of her first very-pregnant appearance to the subdued, painful darker moments in Act II, she commands full attention whenever she's onstage, and the audience simply loves every moment, every movement, every expression. "Hell no!" her declaration of independence, is a real show-stopper.

Miller and Latrisa Harper (as Nettie) share many poignant moments, and Miller's "Somebody's Gonna Love You" sung to her baby before it is taken from her, is very moving, as is "I'm Here," her powerful declaration in Act II.

As Nettie relates through her letters to Celie tales of her missionary life in Africa, the African continent comes alive with drumming, dancing and a backdrop of a village in brilliant oranges and blues that reminded this reviewer of a Grandma Moses painting or a stitched sampler.

This talented cast, powerful saga and exquisite score earned the full appreciation of this opening night full house crowd.