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The Color Purple

Adapting a celebrated novel for film or stage is often a thankless task, with fans of the original harping endlessly over what was left out. In the case of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning The Color Purple, the challenge is further complicated by the epic sweep and challenging subject matter: a panorama of the African-American experience that includes incest and lesbianism. The film was nominated for 11 Oscars and won none; the musical was nominated for 11 Tonys and won one.

(Left to right) Angela Robinson as Shug Avery and Bridgette Bentley as townsperson
(L to R) Angela Robinson as Shug Avery
and Bridgette Bentley as townsperson
Photo by Paul Kolnik
Much has been written about this disparity, but it really comes down to genre crossover: the two big winners of the 2006 Tonys against which this musical was competing—Jersey Boys and The Drowsy Chaparone—were written specifically for the stage. Let it be said, though, that this tuner is wholly satisfying in a way that the film was not: the musical numbers provide a window into the interior life of the characters and the main male character, Mister (Albert), is allowed some sense of redemption.

The central character, Celie, is a meaty role—LaChanze won the Tony for this—and on press night Phyre Hawkins filled in marvelously for Jeannette Bayardelle, who comes to the tour directly from Broadway. Hawkins' handles the details of Celie's aging, from a teenager to late middle age, with aplomb, all the while wowing us with her pipes.

(Left to right) Felicia P. Fields as Sofia and Stephanie St. James as Squeak
(L to R) Felicia P. Fields as Sofia
and Stephanie St. James as Squeak
Photo by Paul Kolnik
Felicia Fields redefines "big mama" with her rocking, spunky send up as Sofia. Anika Ellis is smokin' as the self-consumed, independent Shug. LaToya London sparkles as Nettie, the fortunate one. Rufus Bonds, Jr., accomplishes the near impossible in Mister's redemption. Stu James draws a multi-faceted Harpo. The Church Lady chorus—Kimberly Ann Harris, Virginia Ann Woodruff, and Lynette DuPree—provide bright bursts of comedic relief.

The craft work—sets, costumes, lighting, and sound—is delightful.

There were few dry eyes in the house during the final heartwarming scene in which all of Celie's struggles are finally washed away.

Denver Center Attractions presentation of The Color Purple runs through January 18th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows

 

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