Iconic musical remains a triumph of the human spirit

The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre launches its 2019-20 season with the musical The Color Purple starring a stellar African-Canadian cast at the John Hirsch Mainstage.

The Color Purple is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker and the Academy Award-nominated movie. The Grammy Award-winning music softens the storyline but does not lessen the dramatic impact.

Winnipegger Kimberley Rampersad is directing the play.

Over the course of two and a half hours, Rampersad provides an intimate look at a story of oppression and reclamation by focusing on the sensitive script by playwright Marsha Norman.

The simplicity of Brian Perchaluk’s powerful set consists of two barren trees with their branches forming a canopy and a hint of an interior, while Hugh Conacher’s subdued but dramatic lighting enhances the set. Together, these elements complement the director’s vision by focusing attention on the characters.

The story follows the transformative journey of Celie — a poor teenager living in the southern United States — who is trapped in a life of unimaginable hardship and abuse in the early 1900s but ultimately finds inner courage through self-discovery. With a narrative that involves racism, sexism, rape, incest and violence, most characters come from a place of pain — some deeper than others. Despite this, they all achieve a measure of happiness and inspiring redemption.

Starring in the lead role of Celie, Tara Jackson gives a vulnerable performance while simultaneously exhibiting a quiet resolve and strength of character with her emotionally powerful singing voice. Ryan Allen, who plays her cruel husband, digs deep to portray a multi-dimensional, damaged character.

The indisputable power in the musical comes from Celie’s examples of female inspiration — namely, her husband’s mistress, Shug Avery, and her daughter-in-law, Sofia.

Karen Burthwright gives a compelling, feisty performance as Shug, seeing the goodness within Celie and showing tenderness far beyond the harshness she has known.

Janelle Cooper infuses her role as Sofia with humour and shows Celie that a woman can stand up to a man with her anthem of female empowerment, “Hell No!”

The love that the female characters show each other transcends their own pain to lift the spirits of others, and eventually the men in the musical make this choice as well.

The superb cast of 16 vivid characters each have powerful solo voices and, when they sing together, they lift your heart.

In particular, the gossipy church ladies deliver comic touches while sashaying to the live band under the direction of Floydd Ricketts.

The Color Purple — beginning with a church scene, ending with the word “Amen” and infused with gospel songs exuberantly sung throughout the musical — transports the audience to a religious service.

The sermon leaves you hopeful about the healing power of forgiveness and love.

 

The Color Purple runs until Nov. 16.