Cadogan Hall, London – until 21 May 2017
Guest reviewer: Charlotte Darcy
The Color Purple’s book, movie and musical have all told the extraordinary story of a Celie, a brutally oppressed woman who against all odds, overcomes racism, abuse and misogyny to find her unique place in 20th century America. Not seen in London since the Menier’s sensational production in 2013, the musical returned to the capital this week for a one night only concert-staged fundraiser.
Taking time out from her West End debut as Dreamgirls’ alternate Effie White, Marisha Wallace shone as Celie. This site has already raved about Wallace’s current work at the Savoy and yet again, her phenomenal voice and emotional, heart wrenching performance proved that she had been perfectly cast. Back at the Menier, Cynthia Erivo’s Celie (a role that was to win her Broadway’s Tony 3 years later) had stopped the show nightly with I’m Here. This time around Wallace matched that moment, bringing the packed Cadogan Hall to a mid-act standing ovation as she gave her own interpretation to this most defining of the show’s numbers.
Two other power house women were Wendy Mae Brown as Sofia and Rachel John’s Shug, Celie’s closest friends. Rarely can there have been two more spirited or sassy woman on stage together at one time. John was a phenomenally assertive and sexually confidant presence on stage, embodying her flirtatious character with ease and outstanding vocals. To describe her take on Push The Button as vocal gymnastics would be an understatement.
Likewise, the audience’s instant support and love for Sofia was tangible. Brown’s guttural and soulful voice was delicious. It proved impossible however not to scream with laughter at her perfectly weighted, sarcasm-filled pauses that she used to judge the patriarchal and cluelessly domineering men surrounding her.
Clueless in character maybe – but the guys on stage were amongst London’s finest. Cavin Cornwall’s malevolent, misogynist Mister proved classily contemptible, whilst Tyrone Huntley delivered ingenious ineptitude with his emotionally bungling Harpo.
Alongside the British Theatre Academy, producer Danielle Tarento had assembled an outstanding cast to deliver a truly powerful production, with James Taylor conducting (unbelievably, only) an 8 piece band and making the score soar too. Bravo to Tarento and her stellar company, The Color Purple was magnificent!