The Color Purple

★★★★★ “Exquisitely Perfect”

Review By Caroline Hanks-Farmer

If like me you are interested in all theatre whether it be in the U.K. or on Broadway then you can’t have failed to hear about the phenomenon of The Color Purple.

Background

Based on the novel by Alice Walker first published in 1982 and subsequently made into a 1985 film directed by Stephen Spielberg this period story is unbelievably strong.

An epic tale spanning forty years in the life of Celie (Marisha Wallace), an African-American woman living in the South who survives incredible abuse and bigotry. After Celie’s abusive father marries her off to the equally debasing “Mister” Albert Johnson (Cavin Cornwall), things go from bad to worse, leaving Celie to find companionship anywhere she can. She perseveres, holding on to her dream of one day being reunited with her sister (Seyi Omooba) in Africa.

Photos by Scott Rylander

Review

Billed as a charity concert in aid of British Theatre (see below for more details) I was not prepared for such a powerful tour de force of performances. The feelings evoked by Wallace and Cornwall crept up on me and left me reeling from their intensity. Songs such as Somebody Gonna Love You, A Tree Named Sofia, Push Da Button, Our Prayer, What About Love and the title track The Color Purple meant there was little respite from surging emotions.

The entire cast took you on a journey, with rousing songs and toe-tapping melodies. But it was the leads that defied belief. With minimal movement but full characterisations there was absolutely no need for any staging, other than what we had, which meant the orchestration could be fully enjoyed. At times the balance was a little off but nothing that detracted from the vocal talents that bestowed the exceptionally lucky audience.

Photos by Scott Rylander

Faultless performances

Cavin Cornwall as Mister managed to give you a deep sense of loathing for his very being, changing to humility when realisation of what he had become hit home. Sweet adorable sister Nettie (Seyo Omooba) with not a bad bone in her body delivered the song Africa with such meaning. Whilst Shug (Rachel John) gave us many memorable moments particularly in her number Too Beautiful For Words and the title number The Color Purple was nothing short of perfection. Sofia (Wendy Mae Brown) and Harpo (Tyrone Huntley) were a great pairing and in particular their song Sofia showed us what talents they truly are. It was a welcome opportunity to see Hugh Maynard (Pa/Grady) share the stage, while T’Shan Williams added an element of fun with her portrayal of Squeak.

However the night truly belonged to Marisha Wallace her heart wrenching disturbingly real Celie made you want to rise from your seat to save her. But it was her vocals which left you breathlessly in awe of their magnitude. I’m Here had us leaping to our feet to applaud Wallace. And it was during this number I realised I wasn’t just shedding the odd tear I was fully sobbing. I think it was mainly due to the intensity and pent-up emotion with the final release that Wallace was empowered. The ending was the perfect happy ending.

Photos by Scott Rylander

What more can I add other than, this was an extremely special evening which is going to be hard to follow. Finally can we have a proper West End run with this exquisitely perfect cast?

The British Theatre Academy

The British Theatre Academy is a unique performing arts programme that has inspired and nurtured the talent of thousands of young performers over the past 30 years. We believe that children should be trained as professionals by professionals. Our team maintains an established link with casting directors, music producers, and talent agents across the world. We are passionate about releasing the individual skill and flair of each student in all aspects of their chosen field. Our experienced creative team provide exceptional training and are dedicated in preparing and inspiring our students at the highest level.

Last Summer the BTA presented The Secret Garden at the Ambassadors Theatre for a month-long West End season and Godspell (featuring West End and Broadway stars Kerry Ellis, Ramin Karimloo and George Maguire) together with pupils from the Academy. Altogether, over 500 outstanding cast members wowed the audiences all summer long!

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