Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 7, 2017

The Color Purple

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through December 10, 2017
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by Matthew Murphy
Good stories can cross cultural boundaries with relative ease. London’s West End Menier Chocolate Factory is a theater that has remounted many Broadway shows, only to bring them back to the U.S. in a new form. In this past year, Broadway witnessed a Chocolate Factory version of Stoppard’s “Travesties,” and Boston’s Huntington Theater hosted the British interpretation of Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” The current tour of “The Color Purple,” now at the Bushnell, is a Chocolate Factory remix of the 2005 Broadway hit musical.

Alice Walker’s 1982 novel is a story about southern slavery through the eyes of Celie, who grows from a 14-year old pregnant teen to a self-confident entrepreneur over a span of 40 years. An intricate mosaic, the book weaves together stories of African-American women and men, social relations and cultural commentary. The film, directed by Stephen Spielberg, debuted in 1985, and Broadway revived the musical in 2016 winning a Tony for “Best Revival.”

Director John Doyle, who mounted the Chocolate Factory version of the play, has scaled the set to be appropriate for the audience’s imagination. Chairs are cleverly used for shovels, platforms, weapons and more. The gospel-inspired music is both electronic and live, and appropriately overshadowed by the exceptional voices of the 21 cast members who almost all play multiple roles.

The real star of the show is undoubtedly Celie, who is perhaps one of the most original characters to emerge in the story.  Played by Adrianna Hicks, an exceptional singer/actress who demonstrates vocal and emotional depth—especially in the show-stopper number, “I’m Here.” Hicks seemingly transforms from the young Celie, an “ugly girl” into the Black Woman who remains dedicated to her faith even though she emerges from an abusive situation to become the woman she wants to be.

While the first act on opening night seemed to lack energy, perhaps as the sound balance in the theater was being fine-tuned, the second act exploded with connection on stage and with the audience. The final feeling of the evening was that of watching a part of American history pass and feeling buoyant with a future that has heart and soul. As one of the few people who had never read the book, seen the movie, or the Broadway production, this version left me with a desire to explore “The Color Purple” in its various forms, more fully.

December 4, 2017

Christmas Carol—A Ghost Story of Christmas

HartfordStage, Hartford, CT
through December 30, 2017
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
From the opening scene featuring dancing and flying ghosts, you know this version of  “A Christmas Carol” is going to be different from the usual Christmas fare. The 20th Anniversary production of Charles Dickens’ classic story, directed by Rachel Alderman marks the holiday season in a spirited way (pardon the pun) and has embraced the Dickens classic story with a multi-racial cast. Originally adapted by former Artistic Director Michael Wilson, this production is a masterpiece of family fun that Dickens himself would appreciate.

This year, Scrooge is delightfully played by Michael Preston, a former member of the Flying Karamazov Brothers, who adds his skills as a juggler and comic. The venerable Noble Shropshire in a dual role as Mrs. Dilber, and Jacob Marley’s ghost, provides a brilliant catalyst for Scrooge’s epiphanies. Twelve professionals in multiple roles and fstudents from the Hartt School (many of whom have professional status) share the stage with 26 adorable children from the youth ensemble in a beautifully choreographed story that brings the best of theatrical design to the experience. Special kudos go to choreographer Hope Clarke, scenic designer Tony Straiges, costume designer Alejo Vietti, lighting designer Robert Wierzel, and sound designer John Gromada for exceptional contributions to the storytelling.

Hartford Stage has also designated special performances for audiences with special needs. December 17 will feature a 2 p.m. matinee for patrons who are deaf or have hearing loss, and there will be an open captioned performance on the same day at 2 p.m. and 7:30p.m. for patrons who are blind or have low vision.

If you know a youngster who has never seen a live performance before, this production is a wonderful way to introduce them to the magic of the theatre. It was obvious that many of the audience members have made this an annual family event and cooed over the production pictures from past years, with even the youngest of children remembering characters from previous productions. Without a doubt, this show helps you understand the “spirit” of Christmas.