Book by Marsha Norman
Based on the Novel by Alice Walker
Music and Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Alice Willis and Stephen Bray
Directed by John Doyle
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
Official Website

Reviewed by David Spencer

After I saw the UK debut of The Color Purple in London’s Menier Chocolate Factory in the Summer of 2013, where it was justifiably selling out, I wrote this:

            “Director John Doyle has re-imagined, and with the authors, somewhat rethought and restructured the musical, to transform something that, [in its original Broadway production], struck me as decent enough (but not better than that), to something truly extraordinary. The epic story of a young girl’s coming of age and triumphing from a background of abuse and despair has bridged the gap between efficient to elegant, in a staging—surrounded by the audience on three sides of a small, intimate theatre—that newly particularizes the characters and strips away almost everything physical, save for costumes, which are explicit (if economical) and a number of bleached wood chairs that travel from the back wall, where they are hung, to the stage for use, and back again. The stage and back wall are bleached wood too. And with minor exception, props are pantomimed. Add an across-the-board exemplary cast, brisk new orchestrations for a small band and an energy generated in the audience that has Brits responding with the shameless abandon of…well, Yanks…and you have one of the Summer’s most unexpected treasures.”

            I’m happy to report that it has lost absolutely nothing in the transfer, not in its design being reconfigured from a thrust-stage in a small theatre to a proscenium Broadway house, nor in the near-total recasting of all roles except the lead (Cynthia Ervio). It’s an outstanding production, a cathartic experience and a serious object-lesson in the transformatuions that can be made when material connects to a director who has exactly the right sensibility to bring it all the way home.

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