Guest Review: THE COLOR PURPLE at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

I told my friend Maria that I really wanted her to do a review of the 2015 Broadway revival of The Color Purple after she saw it over the Christmas break. "That's super cool - I'd love to!" she said to me when I shared the idea, so a few days later when we're sitting together in a free study period at school, I turn to her and remind her that we're going to do this interview-style review of the show. 

Maria gets comfortable in her red swivel chair as I sit at the computer ready to write the review you're about to read. She looks at me: "I have absolutely no idea what to say". "Just say what you think when I ask you a question!" I say and laugh. "Alrighty, alrighty..." - Maria composes herself and looks at me waiting for the first question. "So," I start, "what were your first impressions of The Color Purple when you left the theatre?". Maria takes a moment to think, before saying: "Before the show began, I felt slightly skeptical because my only experience with musical theatre was a production of The Sound of Music I saw at the London Palladium a few years back. I didn’t know what to expect from such a heavy and reasonably unknown show for people like me who aren’t very versed in musical theatre. Afterwards, I felt exhausted because of how emotional the show is – it made me cry throughout because of how emotional and impactful this show is. I thought “Oh my gosh; I finally understand musical theatre!” I left wanting to read the book and learn more about the story that the show told."

"For those who don’t know the story of The Colour Purple, to simplify a long and interesting story, it's about sexism and the hardships young black women faced in the late 1950s in Georgia. You see young children who are pregnant and beaten, and young boys being encouraged to beat their wives by the older men. It's a horrible story to begin with, but one that is really inspiring and motivational by the end."

"Is this alright so far?" Maria asks me apprehensively. I laugh and remind her that I would just stop her if she was doing it wrong. We both laugh as she thumbs through the Playbill in her hands, working out what she's going to say in response to my next question. "How well does the show work as a musical?" I ask. She looked at me blankly: "I've never read the book or seen the film, so I have no idea!"; she laughs. "Hm, good point" I ponder, trying to work out how to word my next question correctly. "Tell me about the technical aspects of the show then; how about set and music and stuff like that?" 

She smiles while recalling the following: "The music (by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray) was beautiful and reflected the beauty of the story really well. The cast were fantastically talented and their vocals were gorgeous; but more of that later! There wasn’t too much dance involved in the show but when there was, it was intimate and exciting at the same time. The costumes were also stunning: there was a scene when Celie (Cynthia Erivo), Shug Avery (Jennifer Hudson) and Sofia (Danielle Brooks) came out in pant suits and I was just like “wow!” – they looked absolutely stunning. The set was amazing; there were wooden chairs all over the walls and stage which made the show feel so surreal yet realistic all at the same time. It was such a simple set, but the actors and characters brought it to life and filled it with character because of their wonderful performances."

"Jennifer Hudson as Shug Avery was so fantastic both vocally and acting-wise. Her stage presence was empowering and impressive considering I’ve only ever known her from the Dreamgirls movie and her song ‘Spotlight’! She really brought this score to life, and her performance in this show has made me a die-hard Hudson fan! Cynthia Erivo as Celie was a delight to watch too. Considering I’d never heard of her before (“I’m not trying to be mean – I just don’t know people from musicals!”), I thought she was fantastic and the performance she gave really impacted me – it was why I was crying so much throughout the performance." 

She stops to think about what to say next as I interject: "I saw Erivo in I Can’t Sing! in 2014 and I can second that – she’s also such a delight to meet!". Maria sighs: "I went to the stage door to try and meet Jennifer Hudson and Cynthia Erivo afterwards, but neither of them came out". We both share a disappointed sigh in unison, before Maria remembers her trail of thought and gets quickly excited. "Danielle Brooks as Sofia was my personal favourite in the show because her character was so strong and she played the role so believably. She was absolutely hilarious as well and considering I’ve also seen her in Orange Is The New Black, she’s now definitely one of my favourite actresses". She pauses to think of how to phrase her enthusiasm for Brooks' performance in one phrase: "she was the star of the show in my eyes!"

"Gahh Maria, that sounds so awesome! I'm so jealous!" I say to her, just trying to imagine getting to see this masterpiece for myself at the Bernard B. Jacobs. "Anyway, finally" I say, wrapping up the interview before I squeal with excitement, "if you were directing this revival in another life, what one thing would you do to improve it?" She closes the Playbill and smiles at me: "I wouldn’t change a thing!"

You can follow Maria at @rnariarae on Twitter - thanks, Maz!

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