|The radiant Cynthia Erivo as Celie, photo @ Matthew Murphy|
I saw The Color Purple last night on a total whim. I had heard wonderful things about this revival but I had been resistant because as a rule I dislike musicals that are based on beloved novels. Alice Walker's novel was/is so perfect that I thought any musical adaptation would seem shallow by comparison. I also didn't have any points of comparison -- I hadn't seen the original Broadway production.
For this revival director John Doyle made the conscious choice not to age the actors in any way even though the story spans almost 40 years. Aging was indicated by body language, vocal inflection, facial expression. There were also no real scene changes -- a large unit set (a back panel of wood and a bunch of chairs) suggested the stark surroundings of Celie's life: her home, her church, her community. Celie's birth of her second child was depicted as Celie pulling a large sheet from under her dress, then folding the sheet to resemble the shape of a baby bundle.
The net effect was that the focus was squarely on the actors. When the house lights dimmed I was skeptical of the direction. Could the actors really carry the entire musical? Well forget the doubts. Believe the hype. Cynthia Erivo (Celie) is every bit as astonishing as everyone says she is. She has the pipes, she has the charisma, and most importantly, she has that inner radiance and light. She walks onstage and without saying a word her body emanates "I'm Here." (Later when she sings the 11 o'clock number she gets a standing ovation.) In addition to her incredible pipes, Erivo is an amazing actress. Her Celie is tough, practical, of a very strong constitution. Erivo takes the audience on Celie's journey and at the end of the evening most of the audience was in tears but it didn't feel cheap or manipulated. We were actually crying for Celie. Erivo earned her Tony.
|Johnson as Mister, photo @ Matthew Murphy|
|The three amazing ladies, photo @ Matthew Murphy|
Thus it takes an incredible cast that's full of energy and conviction to pull this off and this cast certainly did. Erivo's radiant voice and expression were so full of uplift that I can only say: Like a blade of corn, like a honeybee, like a waterfall, all part of me. Like the color purple, where did it all come from?" Beautiful beautiful evening. Catch Erivo while you can (I believe she leaves the show in January).