With a history that includes a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, two Tony’s, one Grammy, one Emmy and
nominated for eleven Oscars, The Color Purple is undoubtedly a work of utter beauty across artforms. From novel, to film, to musical, the piece has evolved through the decades and now it opens in Birmingham, at the Hippodrome, following a run at Curve, Leicester.
The stage adaptation is written by Marsha Norman with music and lyrics from Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. Based upon the novel by Alice Walker and the motion picture that followed, Birmingham Hippodrome’s first ever co-production with the Curve is a sure-fire hit.
Featuring a 17-strong cast, this remarkable story is heart-breaking, yet heart-warming. Addressing many urgent, pertinent themes, the story delves into the deep, dark depths of racism, rape, oppression and domestic abuse, yet soars into the realms of love, freedom, hope and overcoming adversity.
The entire ensemble dazzle with astonishing voices that fill the vast Hippodrome auditorium. Spine-tingling harmonies delight, with outstanding individual performances. It really is the voices that shine in this production. Musically directed by Alex Parker and orchestrated by Martin Higgins, the music is sublime throughout.
Shy of listing the entire cast, special mention must go to the wonderful comic trio of Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah (Darlene), Landi Oshinowo (Jarene) and Danielle Kassaraté (Doris), who constantly break up the action with their hilarious gossiping, plus shout-out to Anelisa Lamola as the brilliant church soloist.
Superb supporting performances come from Delroy Brown as the skin-crawling Pa and Danielle Fiamanya as Celie’s headstrong sister Nettie, with Ako Mitchell making for a suitably detestable Mister. There were audible gasps from the audience throughout, followed by whoops and cheers when Celie stood up for herself - it was a moment to behold, and much credit due to Mitchell for embodying such a character so excellently. Alongside this, his rendition of Mister Song gave him an opportunity to showcase his impressive vocal range.
However, there were two parallel relationships that really shone through the night. Firstly, the pairing of Karen Mavundukure as Sofia and Simon-Anthony Rhoden as Harpo. Mavundukure was an absolute joy from start to finish - garnering many a laugh through the night, she navigated through a rollercoaster of emotions and beautifully portrayed the role of Sofia. Rhoden made for a likeable, endearing Harpo and when they joined together for their duet Any Little Thing, it was laugh-out-loud fun.
The second pairing of the night was Joanna Francis (Shug Avery) and T’Shan Williams (Celie). An unbelievably talented duo, their tenderness, feistiness and, above all, love, was brought to convincing life on stage. Particular highlights were Francis’s Too Beautiful For Words and their duet What About Love? which powerfully closed Act One, however it was the jaw-dropping performance from Williams in I’m Here that saw the audience erupt into applause - it was a stunning and memorable moment.
Blending dynamic set design (Alex Lowde) with complementary lighting (Joshua Pharo) and under the direction of Tinuke Craig, The Color Purple is a triumph which earned a well-deserved standing ovation.
It’s beautiful and it’s here in Birmingham until Saturday.
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