Review of The Colour Purple: The Musical, currently running at the Joburg Theatre.

 

By Hendrik Baird, GaySARadio.co.za

 

I must confess, I have never read Alice Walker’s book The Colour Purple. From what I know, it is a series of letters written between the two sisters Celie and Nellie. I have however seen the movie starring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, and it is one of those standout movies you can watch over and over again.

Minimal staging and effective lighting colour the stage purple (and red and blue and yellow) in this amazing production. @enroCpics 

Now on at the Joburg Theatre, is the musical version of The Colour Purple. This is a slimmed down version of a 2005 musical, which was revived very successfully on Broadway in 2015. This new musical version is based on both the original book and the Spielberg movie, and it takes a fresh look at the material. And of course, most of it is in musical form.

 

Let’s be clear: This production empowers women, and judging by the audience’s reaction, it hit the nail right on the head. The issues of abuse, rape, separation, love across gender lines, belief – these are all dissected in a superb way in this production, ending in what has been described as one of the most satisfying conclusions to a story. The audience loved it, their standing ovation testament to the fact that they were thoroughly entertained!

 

The first notes struck a chord of confidence in the expectant opening night audience. And I am glad to say that those first chords developed into a major triumph, as the audience was swept up in the story and the fate of its characters. In fact, the audience became so engrossed in the production that they did something one does not often see in a theatre, namely the audience as active participant in the unfolding of the story. The clapped, cheered, commented on, rooted for, suffered and celebrated with the characters brought to life by a magnificent cast who were well prepared for telling this sometimes hard to watch story of abuse and ultimately, redemption

Nettie (Sebe Loetlele) writes letters from Africa in The Colour Purple: The Musical. @enroCpics 

And what an amazingly talented cast this is! This show squarely rests on the small shoulders of Didintle Khunou in the central role of Celie. Her energy ignites the show and her powerful voice pierces the auditorium, sweeping the audience up in its emotion. At other times her more intimate moments are perfectly pitched to get the maximum response from the rest of the cast and her audience. Didintle convinces thoroughly throughout, and her character’s ageing process is a testament to her skill as an actress that it is a very different Celie who stands in front of the audience as the last chords of the music fade away than the one who started in Act 1.

Didintle Khunou shines as the longsuffering Miss Celie. @enroCpics 

 

There is not one weak moment as we are swept up in the story by this talented cast of twenty. Lerato Mvelase shines as Shug Avery, the singer who steals Celie’s heart. After a nervous start, Aubrey Poo found his feet and delivered a strong Mister, a throroughly unpleasant man who makes Celie’s life a living hell. Neo Motaung stands out as Sofia, the role played by Oprah in the movie. Neo’s sassiness is perfect for the part and she revels in it, without crossing the line into caricature.

Shug Avery (Lerato Mvelase) struts her stuff in the speakeasy. @enroCpics 

 

Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri plays a convincing Harpo, but Funeka Peppeta as Squeak needs to concentrate a little on her diction, without losing the comedy of her role. Special mention must be made of the three chorus ladies who act as commentary on some of the action on stage. Their blend of voices, comedy timing and characters are highly entertaining and stands out from the rest of the cast.

These three gossips almost steal the show. @enroCpics 

The set itself is almost classical in design, with large wooden raked areas, which are easily transformed into the various locations with minimal scene changes. The costumes are true to the era, while the lighting design picks up on the colour palette and sets the mood for the many scenes, beautifully illuminating the various areas of the stage, even transforming into an African village to great effect. The choreography is understated but a lot of fun and it seems like the cast thoroughly enjoy the routines that never overshadow the central story line.

The splendid cast of The Colour Purple: The Musical. Bravo! @enroCpics

Kudo’s to director Janice Honeyman and her team for bringing this superb production to the stage. This show is fast paced, rock solid and one not to be missed. This production is headed for an international tour, and just like the recent Priscilla Queen of the Desert, proves that South African stage shows can compete with some of the best in the world. I am sure that The Colour Purple: The Musical will rake in the awards come awards season, and if there is any way you can go and see it, do so immediately! The run at Joburg Theatre ends in March before transferring into the touring season.

 

To book tickets and for more information, go to www.joburgtheatre.com

 

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