Lasting Impressions: The Color Purple

The Menier Chocolate Factory, London, Tuesday July 30th, 2013.

My lasting impression of The Color Puple at The Menier Chocolate Factory, almost three years later, is that it is one of the most thoroughly beautiful musicals I’ve seen to date.

When I first heard that there was to be a musical based on Alice Walker’s novel, I couldn’t compute how a tale filled to the brim with such devastation could be transposed into a glittering top-hat-and-jazz-hands spectacle… I showed no interest in having my love of the novel destroyed by any attempt to make it jolly and more palatable. Then the glowing reviews emerged, so I decided to tell my cynical, prematurely judgemental self to hush up and I got some tickets.

The platform of a musical seemed suddenly to be the perfect fit; personal tragedy and triumph are the basis for every haunting/life-affirming/ inspirational/ defiant hit in the top ten, after all. The superbly talented cast belted their way through each soaring song of pain, struggle, retribution and freedom- sending shivers down my spine and bringing tears to my eyes more often than I can count.The music in this production was comical, uplifting and deeply moving.

There’s no two ways about it: Cynthia Erivo was utterly outstanding. Her vocal talent seemed immeasurable, but it was her ability to wrap her arms around the audience and take them on Celie’s journey so feelingly, that has had a lasting impression. The film has always been a favourite and I was so glad to see the cast make their own mark with their visions of the characters. From memory, Sophia Nomvete’s Sofia was both funny and recognisably formidable but made that famous line her own. Abiona Omonua played Nettie and I remember noting how graceful she was in each scene while Adebayo Bolaji, who played Harpo, was endearingly flawed.

The very, very clever set design was powerful in its simplicity, allowing the story to take centre stage and thereby managing to use the musical form in a way which did not diminish Walker’s emotive and gut-wrenching original. It comes as no surprise that this production, and Erivo in particular, have been such a hit on Broadway. I fully expect a Tony or two, at the very least.

‘The Color Purple’ made it to the top of my musicals list and has remained there as a different kind of musical, able to tell a more sombre story without the camp of the more famous, long-running shows and neither before nor since have I found a musical to be quite so touching or enveloping.

If you get the opportunity to see this show, go. If it miraculously returns to the West End, I’ll be the first in line for tickets!

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