By Beatrice Lee, bostonese.com columnist
The Color Purple is a Boston theater premiere (Jan10—Feb 8, 2014) of the acclaimed Broadway musical based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel written by Alice Walker. Since its publication in 1982, this novel has sold more than 5 million copies in 22 languages. The Warner Bros/Amblin Entertainment motion picture “The Color Purple” opened December 20, 1985, was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover and Laurence Fishburne.
Crystin Gilmore (center) as Shug Avery with (from left) Lovely Hoffman, Taylor Washington, Carolyn Saxon, and Maurice Emmanuel Parent in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of THE COLOR PURPLE, running now through February 8th at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End (Photo credit: Glenn Perry Photography).
This sweeping saga tells the story of Celie, a young African-American woman living in rural Georgia in the early 1900s who overcomes tremendous odds and hardship to discover her own unique voice. This production features a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.
I have always liked purple as a color. Purple means “passion” and reminds me of the Catholic Church which uses the color purple during Easter time for its passion week. Purple is also the color of royalty.
Years ago, I remembered seeing “The Color Purple” movie and feeling shocked by the storyline. I remembered that Oprah Winfrey was in it, but did not remember that Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover were in the movie as well. On Press Day last Sunday in Boston’s South End, my niece Cassy had lunch with me and dropped me off to see The Color Purple at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion Theater, 527 Tremont Street. The drama was very intense. It gave me a lot to think about and I very much loved the singing. The child actors were so natural and I would not mind seeing the show again before it closes on Feb.8th. In this day and age, even after so many years have passed since the historical period depicted in The Color Purple, I am certain this story can still teach many people many lessons.
The stage design was simple. A powerful looking black tree with many old strong roots sprouting in the ground dominated the stage, and forceful branches stretched out in all directions. This tree served as a symbol for the heroine who had the strength and endless power to conquer all the difficulties and obstacles she faced. In the end, Celie survives and hosts a wonderful picnic for all, her children returning from Africa and her sister Nettie who comes back after many years of separation……A happy and joyful love story ending.
Two-time Norton Award winner Paul Daigneault, the SpeakEasy Theater’s Founder and Producing Artistic Director, directed this production which features choreography by Christian Bufford and music direction by Nicholas James Connell.
Celie is played by a Roxbury native, Lovely Hoffman, an artist and teacher at the Smith Leadership Academy. She has toured with Grammy Award-winning rapper T-Pain. In 1985, Steven Spielberg ‘s movie, The Color Purple, earned 11 Oscar nominations—-and won exactly “none,” reflecting the “too-hot-to-handle” nature of this story for its harsh portrayal of violence towards a young woman.
Three years before in 1982, Alice Walker’s ground breaking book told in sparse but graphic detail the story of a poor young black girl whose inner strength is awakened by the physical and emotional violence to which she is subjected.
It was not easy to transform this story into musical theater. After all, the heroine is raped by her father, loses her children and is married to a man who treats her no better than a slave. The Color Purple is ultimately the musical-friendly story of a woman who after 40 years finds the strength to discover her own voice in the world. I felt this was a love story. In the beginning, Celia is homeless, a motherless orphan, and ultimately she ends up at the center of the stage — the tree to which all the family returns like so many birds who live among its branches. She is the home they all find —Mister, her “master” is one of those people. When he asks her “Can I marry you?” her answer is” Let’s us be friends.”
As a Broadway musical produced by Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones and Scott Sanders (running 12/1/2005 to 2/24/2008), The Color Purple was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and won one (La Chanze for best actress in a musical). I think that the public will like this drama-musical. Many local students appear with their talented teacher, Lovely Hoffman. Note: This production does contain adult themes and brief nudity.
For tickets (start at $25), please call 617-933-8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com.