‘Color Purple’ shines brightly in Denver performance

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By Sara Miller

Purple isn’t the only color that stands out in the national production of the spellbinding musical “The Color Purple” that just opened in Denver. This rich, emotionally charged production creates a colorful world of characters living and surviving in the Deep South of the early 1900s.

“The Color Purple” is based on the 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker. The story follows Celie from childhood, during which she is raped by her stepfather and forcibly separated from her children and beloved sister Nettie, through her terrible marriage, sexual awakening in the capable hands of Shug, her husband's adored mistress, and eventual independence.

In the midst of Celie’s hardships, it would be easy to crumble and view the world as all bad — a black-and-white approach to living. Celie and all of the characters in playwright Masha Norman’s adaptation persevere, revealing that at times seeing the world in its many shades of gray is the best way to thrive.

The serious and often violent nature of Alice Walker’s novel does not seem a natural fit for a show that was competing for Tony Awards with light-hearted blockbusters like “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

After writing the book, however, Walker said, “The novel is not about fighting or abusing. It’s about helping people see that we are just human beings here. We’re really trying to live lives that are fulfilling and happy.”

This persistence of the human spirit is only heightened by the addition of the musical numbers. The audience laughed and cheered for Felicia P. Fields as the tough, outspoken Sofia (the role made famous by Oprah Winfrey in the 1985 movie). Field’s show-stealing theme song, “Hell No,” brought down the house. Celie’s final song, the self-actualized “I’m Here,” was both tender and powerful and left nary a dry eye in the place.

The big numbers, whose musical style is a mix of gospel, blues and modern pop, are interspersed with lyric vignettes by the Trio of Church Ladies. In homage to the Greek Chorus and theater’s most famous busybodies, the “Pick a Little, Talk a Little” ladies of “The Music Man,” the Church Ladies provide a hilarious musical commentary that ties together the story spanning 40 years and two continents.

Take away the big voices and the beautiful sets, and the heart of “The Color Purple” is Celie.

“Celie was a great protagonist,” says Scott Sanders, the show’s lead producer. “Although my life in no way mirrored hers, in the same way that every person has to overcome adversity in life and deal with obstacles and hardships, it spoke to me that she was able to pick herself up and move forward day after day.” “The Color Purple” will inspire you to do the same.

“The Color Purple”

Presented by Denver Center Attractions Jan. 8-18 at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex.

Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sunday evening at 7:30 p.m.; matinees at 2 p.m.

Tickets start at $55. For tickets, call 303-893-4100 or visit www.denvercenter.org.