I admit, I was hesitant to give The Color Purple a chance onstage. Can you blame me? Although I knew very little about the production beforehand, I intimately knew of Alice Walker's novel, a pivotal womanist story about the struggles (and subsequent self-discoveries) of Black women in a racist , homophobic and sexist society. I also knew about the iconic film starring Oprah Winfrey, (who now credits the film as unequivocally one of the fundamental turning points in her life) the film which inspired young Black girls all over the world like Lupita Nyong'o who decided to be an actress after seeing "people who look like me" onscreen. There is a history of affirmation and truth rooted in The Color Purple, a nuanced and poignant honesty that is unparalleled in most works of fiction since. Thus, my hesitancy was initially very stout.
I simply couldn't fathom it. How could such a brilliant meditation on Black womanhood, on Black queer womanhood, on sisterhood, on self-love, on self-exploration, on self-manumission of the holiest kind be translated into a Broadway show? I feared censorship, I feared infantilization, and I feared a white-washing. I balked at what I thought would be a gaudy spectacle of gratuitous AAVE and heavy-handed Christian dogma tied up in a nice, pristine package of feel-good. So why would I go see something I had such low expectations for?
My mother. The woman who brought me into existence wanted to see it. And the joy in her eyes when she saw the play was too palpable for me to ignore. This would be the finale in a string of performances my mother was generous enough to take me to. Earlier this winter we watched Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones in The Gin Gameand Erykah Badu's concert at King's Theatre. I couldn't break the trinity. I knew my expectations weren't more important than us forming a deeper bond.
And so, dressed to the tens as I often am, I sat in the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre three rows away from the stage. My mother mused excitedly, "I didn't know our seats were this good!" and I agreed. As the lights dimmed and I looked onto the stage, a transformation took place.
(Photo credits to Matthew Murphy)
Without question, The Color Purple is one of the most dynamic Broadway shows I have ever seen. My low expectations were crushed under the immense weight of flawless voices, top-notch lighting, superb sound editing and emotionally honest performances by a cast of brilliant, beautiful Broadway professionals. The level of professionalism, dedication, hard work, talent, and emotion that these performers put into this show was utterly clear. You couldn't spot a flaw here if you tried.
Cynthia Erivo is a young legend in the making. If her name sounds a bit unfamiliar, you may recognize her voice on the gorgeous track "Fly Before You Fall" from the stunning film "Beyond the Lights" directed by the master Gina Prince-Bythewood.
She plays Miss Celie with gentle bravado and emotional rawness. To see such a beautiful, fragile, level-headed dark-skinned woman onstage softly sing, "I'm thankful for loving who I really am. I'm beautiful, and I'm here" (as she did in the unmatched song "I'm Here") brought me and most of the audience to tears. It is a testimony to the power of literature, how a novel from the 70s can make its way into 2015 and still have a lasting impact on audiences across the globe. I can't help but get misty-eyed thinking of all of the little Black girls in the world who will see an image like that and be inspired to follow their dreams despite the many factors trying to hold them back. The Color Purple is a towering declaration of Black sisterhood and the power of self-love.
Need I say more? Need I tell you how amazing it was to see so many Black performers of different shades and hair grades and shapes working as one cohesive unit to create amazing art? Need I state the obvious fact that Danielle Brooks (of Orange Is The New Black fame) and Jennifer Hudson (the Oscar-winning Dreamgirl) are equally brilliant performers? Need I praise Joaquina Kalukango, Erivo's amazing counterpart as Celie's sister Nettie? Need I tell you again how hard I cried?
The play was breathtaking. It was spiritual. It was edifying. It was hilarious. It was heart-wrenching. It was real. I cannot praise this production highly enough. I wish I had a recorder. I was a blubbering mess. My tears fell liberally down my face, through my open-buttoned brown shirt and descended down my chest onto the brocade designs of the theatre carpet. I cried so much I eventually stopped wiping the tears away. This production left its mark on me, and I left its effects to dry.
The Color Purple is currently being shown at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre through the remainder of December until March 27th, 2016.
For more information, visit: http://colorpurple.com/