As Signature Theatre hosts its final shows in their reopening sea-son, “The Color Purple” was a sub-stantial finale to a successful 2021/22 season.
Based on the 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, “The Color Purple” was adapted into a 2005 Broadway musical, 20 years after the Academy Award-nominated film starring Whoopi Goldberg was released. Signature Theatre’s perfor-mance of the beloved and criticized story of a young African-American woman facing numerous hardships and trying to overcome them in the early 20th century is bound to have one in tears with sadness and joy.
The musical focuses on Celie — played by Nova Y. Payton — a young Black woman living with her sister Nettie — played by Kaiyla Gross —- in the southern United States with their abusive father. The two sisters enjoy playing and singing together, beginning the play with an upbeat song called “Huckleberry Pie.” The chemistry between Payton and Gross is outstanding enough to make the audience believe these two are actually siblings.
Celie is the older sister at 14 years old and has already given birth to two children, later revealing her and Nettie’s father is also the father of her babies. Compared to her headstrong sister, Celie is quiet and submis-sive; often the victim of their father’s vicious character. After being sepa-rated from Nettie and facing the abuse of her new husband “Mister,” Celie talks and sings to God as to why her life is often one obstacle after another.
“Mister” is played by Torrey Linder, who performs the character as a mean, spiteful man who dis-likes Celie for the sole reason that he wasn’t able to marry her sister instead. He treats Celie just as brutally as her father did. Linder’s vocals for songs such as “Big Dog” and “Mister’s Song” highlights Linder’s ability to play an abusive man who, by the end of the play, tries to make right with those he has done wrong.
Throughout many of the musi-cal numbers, the main cast is often backed up vocally by a trio of women — played by Gabrielle Rice, Jalisa Williams and Nia Savoy-Dock. These women do a fantastic job of boosting the songs that once start off small and end up loud and powerful. Songs featured such as “Mysterious Ways” and “Push Da Button” are amplified due to their clean and entertaining vocals.
Celie then meets Mister’s son Harpo — played by Solomon Parker III — and his fiance Sofia, who is headstrong just like Nettie and tries to help Celie fight back against her abusive husband. Although each cast member played their role in an unique and significant way, Sofia’s actress Frenchie Davis stole the show. Her fierceness and humor-ous play on the character had the audience laughing and applauding throughout the show. Her featured song “Hell No!” was a prominent tune due to its lyrics relating to issues all women have to face, even in today’s world.
One thing that stands out in the play is the relationship between Celie and Shug Avery, played fantastical-ly by Danielle J. Summons. Shug Avery is one of Mister’s past lovers and someone whom Celie idolizes emotionally and romantically the moment Shug comes to stay with them.
In the novel, Celie and Shug’s relationship is both platonic and sex-ual, with Shug helping Celie realize sex isn’t supposed to feel agonizing but rather pleasurable. In the play, Celie and Shug share a kiss toward the end of Act One, with Celie feel-ing reciprocated love while sing-ing the heartwarming “What About Love?” between her and Shug.
Signature Theatre’s stage is smaller than most, but it benefitted this showing of the play. The vocals of all the performers were clear and loud, making each song powerful and emotional. The back walls sur-rounding the stage had “blinds” that would turn in and out and reveal a character or setting not shown on the stage at the present moment. This was magnificent to see dur-ing the song “African Homeland” where Celie is reading a letter from Nettie about her missionary work in Africa; the blinds in the back of the stage showed a red sky with some cast members in African garments, painting the visual of what Nettie is telling Celie.
Another mouth-dropping, eye-widening visual Signature Theatre’s performance perfected was the imprint of a tree with branches on one side-wall on the stage. It is something one notic-es right away when scanning the stage. At first, one may believe it is there to imply that most scenes will be taking place outside; how-ever, at the end of the show when Celie is singing the tear-inducing “I’m Here,” the branches begin to bloom with purple flowers, some-thing the audience might not catch until hearing the gasps of others first noticing it. This visual, paired with the incredible cast and music, makes Signature Theatre’s adaptation of “The Color Purple” one that will stick with audiences for a long time.
“The Color Purple” will be showing at Signature Theatre until October 9th. For inquiries about ticket purchasing for the show, visit sigtheatre.org.