The Color Purple: The Musical

The story behind The Color Purple is tragic, even though the show ends on a high note, it starts with the incestuous rape of a 14 year old girl.  Oh, we don’t see it, but we know it’s there soon enough.  I’ve yet to read the book.  I have seen the movie – though years ago, and I notice that as one moves a story from book to screen to musical, the details are removed.  Like an aging memory the story becomes simpler and the details more from our imagination than provided by author or screenplay.

In this case, the story carries us through.  It’s a powerful story.  Yet, I wasn’t pleased with the show itself.  The actors were great – technically it was a masterpiece, no expense spared, I’m sure.  But the translation to the stage lost a lot of the richness of the story, and the music was unable to make up for it.

My first impression of the music, during the opening, was of seventies-era light jazz.  And I prayed that I would get to listen to more than just that!  I was in luck – evidently the writers: Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray; decided to make this a showcase of 20th century black music.  We had gospel, blues, jazz of several flavors, motown…  All well done, but nothing very memorable.

In the second act, when Celie has found Nettie’s letters, we get to follow Nettie’s experience through an african dance/music piece.  The idea was good, we got to see Celie experience Africa through he sister’s letters by having Celie join in the dance as it was happening.  But it felt more like a mish-mash of style – it clashed with the rest of the piece, even happening immediately after intermission so we would be a little more distant.

Worse- the ‘african’ dancing bore a strong resemblance to a mix of modern and ballet.  The choreographer may have been black, but Donald Byrd’s training is definitely in the European tradition.  Oh – it was good, it just didn’t quite fit…

I wouldn’t recommend the play – though you should rent the movie if you haven’t seen it, and probably read the book too (which I am going to do sometime in the next couple of years.  It’s on the list!)

ex animo-



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