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.