Reviewed by Dr, Marion Williams
The Department of Theatre Arts of Alabama State University (ASU) of Montgomery, Alabama presented its Off-Broadway Production (version) of The Color Purple. Through the efforts of Mrs. Georgia and Johnnie Blackmon of the Gathering Awareness Bookstore and sponsors, this wonderful play was brought to life at to Booker T. Washington High’s Theodore Bennett Auditorium on Saturday night at 6:00 p.m.
The cast consisted of about 50 theater college students, orchestra and director – Mr. Anthony Stockard.
The play followed the movie version except the voices of the chief characters Celie, Shug Avery, Mister, Sofia, and Harpo were extraordinary. The rest of the cast Pa, Preacher, Squeak, “The Children”, Church Ladies, and dance troupe were superb also. There were great duets with melodious harmonic tones throughout this musical play.
The story was told with gusto of a down-trodden, ugly and abused Ms. Celie. Love finally comes to Ms. Celie in the most unexpected way, through Shug Avery. She was the unfulfilled love interest of Celie’s husband Mister (LaDarreum Taylor), an abused black man himself, with an awful resentment toward his wife Celie. Shug Avery, played by Jasmine Gatewood, was the quintessential “hoochie-coochie,” loose woman with a great voice and body, along with an even greater ego. She sang and danced her way across the stage with the ease of a gazelle. One could not take one’s eyes off her!
The jug joint (club scene) had a great number in it. Shug’s Push Da Button was funny, energetic and superbly danced by the full company.
Shug and Celie became friends and even lovers. This aspect of the play was tastefully done. It showed how that even the unloved can find love and self-respect. And a true friend is something that we all need.
Act I ends with Celie and Shug doing a great duet on What About Love.
During a ten minute intermission, Mrs. Jewell Canada-Wynn, Vice Mayor of Pensacola presented director, Assistant Professor, Anthony Stockard with a welcome proclamation from the city. He expressed his joy of being in the city and thanked the audience for supporting the Department of Theatre Arts, ASU.
Act II started with a great opening number African Homeland. The story continued from Africa where Celie’s sister, Nettie has gone to serve as a missionary with Celie’s two children, given her by Mister. The African dance numbers were crisps and colorful to watch.
Celie, played by Salome Smith, was without peer. She had a lovely, powerful voice.
Though, my wife and I have had the opportunity to see many Broadway plays, this Color Purple was so good that it was hard at times during the 2:45 hour production, to believe that these were actually college students and not professionals. The play made you laugh, cry, applaud, cheer and become sad as the scenes changed.
Celie through the help of Shug, finds missing letters that Mister has hidden from Celie for years. This event created in Celie an unleashed hatred of Mister with murderous intentions.
They gathered at a family dinner with Sofia, played by Ashley Portis. Sofia has gotten out of jail where she was beaten very badly. Eventually Celie confronts Mister and leaves with Shug, her new husband and Squeak, played by Chelsea Jackson. As she leaves she “curses” Mister.
It is so moving when Celie’s missing sister’s letters are read and the scenes touched the audience’s heart. Celie ‘s sister, Nettie,was a missionary in Africa who had her kids. Communication between the two started and continued from this point onward. Nettie, played by Briyana Guadalupe, possessed a strong and crystal clear voice.
Celie decided toleave town, got some good news and endeds up owning her own Alternations store making hit “pants” that everyone wanted. They are the latest rage. Shug found another love interest, a 19 year-old college student in her band, and left Celie.
The song What about Love between Shug and Celie was outstanding. Thereafter, Sofia and Harpo, played by Antiono Woodard, did a hilarious duet in the scene “Can I do a little something for you? Their song Any Little Thing was sexy, fun and tantalizing.
As Celie became successful, Mister visited her and asked her to marry him. She turned him down. Unbeknown to her, it is Mister who is responsible for bringing Celie’s sister, and her kids to the U.S. from Africa. It was great to see Celie’s character grow and change over the play.
There was a grand picnic and reunion where the entire cast gathered for the finale. The good deeds of Mister are revealed. Nettie and the kids (Olivia and Adam) came home to Celie, joyfully. Olivia was played by Tia Godfrey and David was played by Darton Thompson.
The healing power of forgiveness is confirmed and the beauty of The Color Purple in a field (a gift of God) is acknowledged. The loving power of God is experienced.
The audience gave a standing ovation to this wonderful performance as the cast came forward for their final bows. The old adage “Break a Leg” was accomplished by this superior cast, as they sang The Color Purple for the final rendition. Many in the audience stayed after the performance to chat with the full company. Job very well done ASU!
If you missed this performance, please do not do so again. If Mrs. Blackmon brings her Alumni Theater group back to our town, it is surely worth seeing. I can’t wait until they return to us!