Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan
I must admit that I was skeptical about seeing The Color Purple last night (April 6) at The Forum in Binghamton. How could you possibly improve on Alice Walker’s timeless tale of redemption, love and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity (not to mention the classic movie portrayal with Oprah and Whoopi Goldberg)? Well, much to my surprise, they did the impossible. They found a way to convey the power of Walker’s characters in unbelievable ways. Not only was this great theater, but it was a spiritual experience, one I will not soon forget. I always knew that theater could move you, but it is rare to find such a production. I was never quite sure if I was in a theater or a church, a credit to the very talented cast.
Dayna Jarae Dantzler played the vulnerable, innocent Celie well. Her journey was truly powerful. She started out an insecure, impressionable girl and turned into a woman with a strength that could move mountains. Dantzler never failed to let us into her world and therefore delivered a performance worthy of a Tony Award. Equally memorable was Pam Trotter as Sophia. Sophia is a force to be reckoned with and has no trouble speaking her mind. Her big number, “Hell No,” was a knockout. Trotter sang with so much passion that I started cheering by the end of it.
I could go on and on about the stellar cast, but I want to share another profound side of this production . The second act opened with Celie reading letters from her estranged sister, Nettie, who was doing missionary work in Africa. Rather than merely having Celie read the letters, the production transformed the stage into an African tribal community. This imaginative depiction, not only furthered the plot, but was a fine tribute to African-American culture. I was blown away by this unexpected, but brilliant, excursion from the linear plot.
Yes, The Color Purple is somewhat contrived at the ending, but I didn’t care. In the final moments, the cast joyfully sang “Look at what God has Done.” I couldn’t help thinking that God, or any Higher Power, would rejoice as I did in The Color Purple‘s celebration of the human spirit. Contrived,maybe, but I prefer to think of it as miraculous. And who couldn’t use a miracle right now?
The Color Purple was a presentation of the Broadway Theatre League. The next touring company to appear will be Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, June 3-5 at The Forum.