Touring – reviewed at Birmingham Hippodrome
Guest reviewer: Emily Cliff
From great American novel to star-casted film to Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical, Alison Walker’s The Color Purple has seen many formats over the years. A hard-hitting musical at the best of times, and a musical that needs passion, love and a cast to carry the story above and beyond. Like many in the audience, my only experience of this gut-wrenching story has either been with the book taught and analysed in schools or the 2015 new Broadway cast recording starring Cynthia Erivo and Jenifer Hudson – this new staging of the infamous musical is just as breathtaking as every adaptation I have come into contact with.
With a fantastic set designed by Alex Lowde, the show is a visual masterpiece from the very beginning. Simple alcoves built into the wider stage transform the sets completely and the clever use of projection onto the timber background give the stage that rustic southern American feel to it. The first look at costumes in the opening number demonstrates that this show truly cares about doing both the book and the original Broadway show justice but also showing us that it is also trying to be its own individual staging.
For those who don’t know, The Color Purple tells the harrowing story of a woman silenced, shunned and shut away; abused by her stepfather and even more so by her husband, Celie’s life has been far from easy. The musical tells a story of resilience and the importance of standing up and keeping the faith. Me’sha Bryan is simply mesmerising as Celie and her voice is powerful throughout the show. However, when it comes to the infamous power ballad ‘I’m Here’ Bryan almost makes herself too small for the stage. Her voice is extremely powerful and her performance as Celie is awe-inspiring and simply magnetic – I truly believe that she will be one of the biggest stars in musical theatre to come – but she needs to fill and own the stage a little more when that song comes and not shy away from it.
Anelisa Lamola’s Sofia is just as spicy and punchy as anyone could hope for. Taking the character in her stride and truly making it her own and delivering it with power and determination. Another notable performance is Bree Smith as Shug, delivering the performance as gracefully as her character, teaching everyone in the audience some valuable life lessons.
Portraying Mister is Ako Mitchell. A tough role to perform and really do justice yet Mitchell does just that. The role of Mister is incredibly hard to nail when you consider everything, on the one hand, you hate him from the very beginning for putting Celie through such hell and abuse; from that along it is hard to recover, but when he gets his redemption Mitchell can show the audience the vulnerable side of a character we never even thought we could stand to like.
Overall this production of The Color Purple was simply beautiful. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre at the end. Supported by an all-powerful cast this production is bound for a London, maybe even a West End transfer by the end of the tour. Inspirational, gut-wrenching and emotional everyone needs to see this story of love and faith at least once.
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