Jennifer Hudson’s Broadway Debut ‘The Color Purple’ Gets Crowds to Their Feet
‘Color Purple’ musical on Broadway has a divine, moving spirit.
The opening night audience for Broadway’s “The Color Purple” didn’t wait for the curtain call to give the show a standing ovation. However Jennifer recovered quickly and looked absolutely stunning to walk the red carpet for the afterparty event, wearing a purple fishtail gown by Zac Posen.And Danielle Brooks – who portrays Sofia in the Broadway revival – was lucky to have many of her Orange Is The New Black co-stars and friends showing their support on the big night.NEW YORK (AP) — To those who question why a revival of “The Color Purple” is back on Broadway after its predecessor closed there only in 2008, the answer is two words, and it may not be the two words you expect. The star took some time to pose with co-stars Danielle Brooks and Cynthia Erivo, as well as her fiance David Otunga, his nephew Trae, and their son David – who all wore matching suits.
At one point the nightclub singer Shug (Jennifer Hudson, making her Broadway debut) steps onstage in a periwinkle suit, but that’s the closest the production comes to flamboyance. A restrained expansion of the production Doyle debuted at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London in 2013; this version is streamlined and stripped down. Meanwhile Emmy Winner Aduba looked far from her ‘Crazy Eyes’ persona with her long black locks looking sleek and a pastel pink frock flattering her figure.
Adapted from Alice Walker’s novel by book writer Marsha Norman and composer and lyricists Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, the story describes the trials and eventual emancipation of Celie, an African American girl who bears two children to her rapist stepfather (whom she believes to be her father) by the age of 14. The musical follows a Southern black girl named Celie (Cynthia Erivo) who survives rape and poverty before eventually finding love and contentment in womanhood. But Cynthia Erivo, who has come over from England to re-create the starring role of Celie, gives a performance big enough to play in the Grand Canyon: Her face is a deeply incised mask of suffering and sorrow, her acting is plain and true and her singing is gorgeous beyond belief. But the most inescapable thing about the musical is just how much horror is packed into its leading characters’ lives — and, eventually, just how much beauty.
While her pretty sister Nettie (Joaquina Kalukango) is allowed to finish her schooling, Celie is married off to the cruel Mister (Isaiah Johnson), who tasks her with chores and the rearing of his unruly children. It’s a fine old-fashioned celebration of endurance, grace and goodness, given a powerful African-American depth.’ ‘When you fully step into your dream there is no other feeling like that. The result — and it wouldn’t surprise me if the uninitiated feel this way as well — is a spiritually transcendent theatricalization of the tale that had me silently shouting “hallelujah” and “amen.” Doyle is aided by a glorious female cast. She plays Shug Avery, a worldly nightclub singer with a flapper finger wave and heart of a gold, and her appearance gives the story its first note of warmth.
Celie isn’t pleased when Shug, Mister’s old flame, arrives for a visit, but Shug forms a relationship with Celie (erotic in the novel, more sororal here), making her feel loved. Relatively unheralded, she brings stark humanity — and an astonishing voice — to the role of the abused young woman dismissed as ugly and worthless who somehow manages to persevere long enough to have her radiant light recognized.
The musical primarily focuses on Celie’s journey from abuse to independence and self-esteem, an arduous trek that takes some four decades, from 1909 to 1949. It’s hard to imagine that Erivo’s heart-stirring Broadway debut, a portrayal that derives enormous power from humility, won’t be recognized once award season arrives. The emotive content can tend toward the soppy and it’s Doyle’s astute choice to lessen its sentiment and to treat the characters and circumstances coolly and truthfully. She laments: “If God ever listened to a poor colored woman the world would be a different place.” Doyle’s pacing in the first act is so swift that there’s little time to breathe as misery seems to visit Celie without release — losing a sister, marrying a monster, endless work, beatings, abandoning her kids. She doesn’t eclipse the work of LaChanze, who won a Tony for her magnificent performance as Celie in the original Broadway production (and is currently lighting up “If/Then” at the Hollywood Pantages), but she stands beside her, a sister in greatness.
Every so often this backfires – the delicacy of the handling of the love between Celie and Shug obscures that relationship – but the simplicity and seriousness is often welcome. Hudson as the hedonistic Shug Avery rushes her lines a tad but no one will care when she opens her mouth to deliver the title song or wiggle in the slinky, memorable group dance number “Push da Button.” There is purity and astounding horse power in her voice. A quiet, subdued performance slowly gathers conviction, and when finally Celie asserts herself with her climatic anthem of self-possession, “I’m Here,” its power is astonishing.
Danielle Brooks’ Sofia, the wife of Mister’s son, Harpo (Kyle Scatliffe), is a pillar of strength and dignity, never more so than when she is under attack. Before her glamorous transformation into an Oscar- and Grammy-winning star, Hudson might have been cast as Sofia, the role in which Oprah Winfrey, a producer of this Broadway show, made her film debut.
Celie is forced to care for Shug, Mister’s longtime mistress with whom she falls in love and finally finds happiness — until Shug runs away with a 19-year-old flute player in her band. “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me, his bleak meditation on Black American life. Walker’s 1982 novel, which won a Pulitzer Prize, and the 1985 movie, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Whoopi Goldberg as Celie and Oprah Winfrey as Sofia, depict a brutally harsh world for poor black women, abused not just by society but by their husbands and fathers. It seems inappropriate to complain about the litany of misfortunes that rain down on poor Celie, given what African Americans experienced in the Jim Crow South. Doyle’s signature, as perfected in his Broadway revivals of “Sweeney Todd” and “Company,” has been to arm his cast with musical instruments and have them double as the orchestra. John Doyle specializes in minimalist reinterpretations of musicals, and you can see how this production — using not much more than chairs, sheets, and some baskets to create a rich version of Celie’s world — was made for that intimate space. (Doyle also designed the sets and choreographed.) There’s a perfect John Doyle moment in the opening scene, when Celie gives birth and a sheet is pulled from her dress and immediately wrapped on itself, turning into a swaddled newborn.
The staging also works remarkably well in the large Jacobs (even if it’s there’s not a clear metaphorical meaning for the collection of wooden chairs suspended all the way up the tall upstage wall). A tale that was once implausible in its stringing together of coincidences no longer seems subject to the same mundane rules of realistic storytelling.
Share this article:
Other articles of the category "Broadway":
New Fiddler on the Roof, Starring Danny Burstein, ...
Jennifer Hudson, Danielle Brooks Fete the Bright a...
The Color Purple Broadway Review: A Story of Siste...
Review: ‘The Color Purple’ on Broadway...
Review: ‘The Color Purple’ on Broadway...
Andrew Lloyd Webber gets Broadway rocking
Review Roundup: CHINA DOLL, Starring Al Pacino, Op...
Is Al Pacino’s new Broadway play ‘Chin...