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The Color Purple

by Stephen Margelony-Lajoie, posted 02/08/2012

The hit Tony-nominated Broadway musical “The Color Purple” brought its national tour to UMass’ Fine Arts Center Concert Hall on January 3, 2012 and February 1, 2012 with a huge welcome from UMass faculty, students and the surrounding community. The musical is based off of Alice Walker’s novel by the same name and the motion picture adaptation of the film that was directed by Steven Spielberg. The musical’s script was written by Marsha Norman with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. It was very relevant that "The Color Purple" was presented at the Fine Arts Center right at the beginning of Black History Month and its faith-inspiring performance is worthy of not only being the most talked about event for the duration of Black History Month but it’s also a gem that will rest in people’s hearts for a lifetime.

The first thing audience members should have noticed when arriving to the Concert Hall was the gorgeous set. For its lack of Broadway-worthy technology and simplicity, the stage design set an appropriate mood for early 1900’s Georgia. The stage props, from Mister’s dilapidated farm to Shug Avery’s regal mansion, were creations that one would expect to see on a show on Broadway. The limited lighting effects of the Concert Hall were utilized in a very impressive way. Although the spotlight was occasionally off, there were scenes when the lighting was strategically used to enhance dramatic sequences. For instance, the lighting effects used in a scene in Act II that takes place in a war zone in Africa was shiver-inducing.

Where the production really stands out is its extremely talented cast and the musical tunes they belt out from beginning to end that moves the story across a period of four decades (from 1909 to 1949). Celie, the show’s main character portrayed by Ashley Ware, delivered a commendable performance that moved the audience to tears more than once. The story began with her stepfather sending her to marry the abusive Mister (portrayed by Edward C. Smith) and is separated from her best friend and sister Nettie (played by Samantha Walkes). The major theme of the show, taking place in pre-Civil Rights Movement Georgia, was less about race and more about female empowerment. Celie, who is abused daily by her husband, is inspired by the take-no-crap-from-anybody attitude of Sofia (portrayed by Pam Trotter) and the insatiable and wealthy Shug Avery (portrayed by Taprena Augustine), both who aren’t afraid to stand up to a man who doesn’t treat them with the respect they deserve. When Celie, whose situation has led to her slowly losing her faith, is finally able to stand up to Mister, she propels herself on a journey toward the unknown and her relationship with both God and the world is resurrected.

Almost the entirety of the musical’s story is moved with its dramatic, Gospel inspired numbers that are delivered with such an ecstatic energy and detail to emotional expression. The musical will surprise the audience in more ways than one throughout its course and is moving enough to reveal as much about Celie’s crazy life as it will your own. “The Color Purple” is not just a musical, it’s an experience that should be revived as long as the musical exists. The issues it brings up, whether they are about race or gender, are topics that need to be discussed and remembered so that the world may never forget.