Theatre review: The Color Purple sings

Impressive cast doesn’t miss a note in this ultimately uplifting story

Members of the cast of The Color Purple., one of two productions with eleven nominations at this year's Robert Merritt Awards. Photo by Stoo Metz.
Members of the cast of The Color Purple., one of two productions with eleven nominations at this year's Robert Merritt Awards. Photo by Stoo Metz.

For a story set in rural Georgia at the beginning of the 20th century, it is surprising just how sadly relevant The Color Purple is today.

Closely following its original source material of Alice Walker’s Pulitizer-prize novel and the subsequent 1985 film adaptation, The Color Purple tells the story of Celie and Nettie, two sisters who find their lives taking very different paths.

While Nettie escapes to become a missionary to Africa, Celie remains trapped inside a patriarchal world of poverty and abuse. Despite its darkness though, The Color Purple is also a story of redemption, empowerment, and hope.

The production currently on stage at Halifax’s Neptune Theatre embraces both the light and dark of this powerful story, with an emphasis on its musical imperatives with some astonishing musical performances. And while the vocal abilities of this cast sometimes overshadow their acting, in a show that is virtually sung-through, it is only a minor distraction.

Leading the way is Tara Jackson as Celie whose transformation from the abused young girl to empowered woman is at the heart of this show. Like the rest of this cast, Jackson’s vocal abilities are top-notch, easily moving between the mix of gospel, blues, jazz and more traditional musical theatre numbers.

Among the other women, Janelle Cooper and Karen Burthwright bring a similar strength to the contrasting roles of Sophia and Avery Shug, and Keisha T. Fraser, Masini McDermott, Sarah Nairne, and Lyris Daye bring a delightful combination of sass and soulful harmonies as the Church Ladies.

The men find their strength as they come together in some of the larger numbers, while Andrew Broderick shines as the “woke” Harpo.

Director Kimberley Rampersad keeps the action moving quickly over this story’s 30-year period while still maintaining clarity, and musical director Sean Mayes keeps his small band tight.

Doing double-duty, Tamara Marie Kucheran’s set is effective in this stripped-down version and the contrast she brings between the early drab costumes and the more colorful later reinforces this show’s central theme of transitioning from dark to light.

Unflinching in its willingness to explore some very dark themes, The Color Purple may have one foot planted in the past, but the other is firmly in today’s world of #MeToo and #TimesUp. Coupling this contemporary resonance with a cast who are musically at the top-of-their-game makes this production really sing.

The Color Purple with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray and a book by Marsha Norman. Directed by Kimberley Rampersad. A Neptune Theatre production on stage at the Fountain Hall (1593 Argyle St, Halifax) until June 2. Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information.