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.