Review: "The Color Purple"

December 31, 2009
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The love-fest going on between Clowes Hall audiences and the touring musical "The Color Purple" is, in some ways, not surprising. The show contains a handful of rousing, heartfelt songs (the act 1 closer "What About Love?" and the requisite self-realization number "I'm Here" tops among them) and characters to care about.

What's surprising is the radical nature (for commercial musical theater, at least) of what actually happens on stage. Most musicals are some variation of boy meets girls/boy loses girls/boy gets girls. In this case, it's woman is beaten by men/woman finds woman/woman loses woman/woman stays friends with woman/woman finds herself/woman makes peace with man. Or something like that. The villain isn't punished in any conventional way. Life moves forward.

For a show that is, in large part, about forgiveness, some forgiveness is necessary on the part of the audience. A lot of plot is crammed into the show, sometimes leading to a justifiable  "Huh?" reaction. Transitions are often blunt and awkward (early on, a baby is taken from her mother and then, rapid flash forward, we find Mom playing happily with her sister). Some songs and dances seem cut off before they reach full power.

Conventions of theater dictate that a show can't be six hours long--and the creators of the show seem determined to work as much of the novel into the show as possible--but the density often hurts the show. Important information is rattled off quickly in dialogue and in lyrics, and the inconsistency of Clowes Hall sound can make picking out those details difficult.

All that said, "The Color Purple" often soars. An outstanding cast--including some members of the original Broadway company--raises the roof in thrilling ways. Felicia P. Fields, a Tony nominee from the original Broadway cast, is indelible as Sofia (playing in the movie by one of the show's producers, Oprah Winfrey).

Kudos, too, to the makeup and costume department, that believably age the actors over the decades-long story.

Your thoughts?

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  • A lot to process in one night
    Having never read the book or seen the movie, I came into Clowes with very minimal knowledge of the plot. At the end of the night, I told mom, "boy, that was a lot to process in one night." I enjoyed the show, but I there weren't many songs you would want to listen to on your iPod.
  • Thank you Lou!
    Thank you Lou for such an interesting Q&A session after the show. The session did shed light on how much was cut from the original workshops and provided great insight from performers who had been with this production for over 6 years. Despite some lack of clarity, it was a fantastic production of a great musical. Rarely do you find such talent in a touring company on an Indianapolis stage.
  • photos and songs
    I saw "The Color Purple" at Clowes Hall last Tuesday night and wrote about it on my own blog. I included several of the photos that I received as part of my press materials because I've been thinking some more about a topic you started here, Lou, a few weeks ago, about the significance of photos in reviews. In some ways they still feel like spoilers to me, but I love looking at them after a show, just as I love writing about shows afterwards. Words will always be more important to me, but I always appreciate when a theatre sends me publicity photos.

    Speaking of words, I am sorry that I could not attend the "talk back" session with Lou and the actors after the Wednesday night performance. You always ask good questions, Lou!

    Speaking of photos, I love the photo that you (Lou) selected to go with your review of "Love Letters" at the IRT. I also love your idea of having several IRT regulars take turns playing the two roles. However, I would still like to see it "as is" sometime before it closes, especially now that I have read your thoughts on it and seen a photo of how it has been staged.

    Barbara, I have to laugh: it didn't even occur to me that I could select just my favorite songs from "The Color Purple" to put on my iPhone. The whole iTunes thing is still very new to me. (What can I say? I am NOT an early adaptor in most areas.) I bought the show's CD at intermission, though, and have enjoyed listening to the whole thing over the past few days, so that was probably the best thing for me anyway.

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit

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