Review: ‘The Color Purple’ at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater

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“I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it,” said the character Shug Avery in novelist Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Color Purple, which was also a Warner Brothers film and in its current incarnation, the 2016 Tony Award Winner for Best Musical Revival, with an entertaining, Grammy-winning score of blues, ragtime, jazz, and gospel. The musical features a book by Marsha Norman, and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray.

Adrianna Hicks (Celie), N'Jameh Camara (Nettie) and the North American tour cast of The Color Purple. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Adrianna Hicks (Celie), N’Jameh Camara (Nettie) and the North American tour cast of The Color Purple. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The Color Purple, through its tale of two sisters, Celie and Nettie, from rural Georgia through the years 1909 to 1949, shows how the survivors and thrivers of the world learn to see “the color purple” – the good things in their lives. With Tony Award-winning director John Doyle’s audience-pleasing approach, The Color Purple is an astonishing musical journey that showcases the strength of the human spirit.

The first thing audiences will notice is Doyle’s engaging set design, which consisted of three massive wooden flats – over 50 feet tall – adorned with wooden chairs. The rest of the set consisted of approximately a half-dozen wooden chairs. The chair motif was no doubt put there to get the audience thinking about the themes of the show.

Another aspect of the show audiences will appreciate is Darryl Archibald’s musical direction and orchestral conduction. Archibald created an unforgettable foundation on which the show’s many powerful singers stood.

Celie and Nettie, played by Adrianna Hicks and N’Jameh Camara, were phenomenal in the carefree tune, “Huckleberry Pie.” Hicks and Camara, along with the Company, were magnificent in “African Homeland.” Hicks stood out with impressive vocals in her solos: “Somebody Gonna Love You” and “I’m Here.”

Hicks and Carla R. Stewart, who played sporting-life-entertainer Shug Avery, matched each other’s energy and intensified the heights of their duet “What About Love?” Stewart brought her lovelorn character to life in the tunes “Too Beautiful for Words” and the titular “The Color Purple.”

Carrie Compere dominated and stole every scene she was in as gregarious, larger-than-life Sofia, the wife of the milquetoast Harpo (Jay Donnell). With mannerisms and facial expressions – that added flavor to the subtext – that only superior characterization can spring from, Compere was amazing to watch. Compere’s pipes are Herculean. Her duet with Donnell, “Any Little Thing,” involved some risqué dance moves.

Carrie Compere (Sofia) in The Color Purple. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Carrie Compere (Sofia) in The Color Purple. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The misogynistic Mister was played with a dangerous relish by Gavin Gregory. I loved the verve and working spirit evident in Gregory and the male Company in “Big Dog.” Gregory’s Mister lamented his marital and love-life troubles in “Celie’s Curse.”

Harpo’s girlfriend Squeak was played with comic understatement by Erica Durham; her voice living up to the character’s name. Celie’s children, Olivia and Adam, were played by Gabrielle Reid and Darnell Abraham. Boy-toy Grady was played by Mekhai Lee.

Ann Hould-Ward’s costume design went from drab, pre-World War I rural garb to brightly-colored, post-World War II clothes, which included vibrantly-colored pants for the women. The costumes helped evoke the characterization.

There was no wonder The Color Purple received a standing ovation. This great musical continues to amaze me. John Doyle has an astonishingly good winner on his hands.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission.

The Color Purple plays through August 26, 2018, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Eisenhower Theater — 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.

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