by MIKE CHAIKEN
If you left “The Color Purple” at The Bushnell without a touch of a tear in your eye and a smile on your face, all I can say is you must be dead inside.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from the musical, which was performed Dec. 5 and continues through Sunday, Dec. 10.
I had seen the Stephen Spielberg movie of the Alice Walker novel with Whoopi Goldberg years ago. And that approach to the tale colored my initial expectations.
But the stage show is much more vibrant and alive than the cinematic approach to the survival tale of a woman who finds herself in a world intent in beating her down again and again.
The show, thanks to wonderful performances and wonderful direction from John Doyle, evoked a rainbow of emotions throughout the evening.
There was fear as you watched how Mister (Gavin Gregory) abused Celie (Adrianna Hicks) or when you watched how Sofia’s (Carrie Compere) defiance was used against her.
There was disgust as you realized the source of Celie’s pregnancy.
There was joy as you watched Celie find love at least.
There was sadness as you watched how love goes astray time and time again for the characters.
There also was a sense of hope as the characters work their way through the turmoil of their lives and toward a brighter day.
Hicks, Carla R. Stewart (Shug Avery), Compere (Sofia), and N’Jameh Camara (Nettie) were all superb as the emotional core of the story. Their portrayals of these strong women caught up in a world that wants to beat them down were perfect.
The key of any performance is do we care for the characters and do we believe them. All four actors had this down pat. The interaction between Shug and Celie, in particular, helped feed the sense of hope and sunlight into a tale that could become all too stifling.
Not all of the characters, by design, were likeable. Gavin Gregory, Mister, was portrayed as a vile and loathsome man. He was the villain. But Gregory didn’t paint the character with melodrama. He left enough room for humanity in the character where we believe redemption is possible.
The show was blessed with a strong ensemble behind the primary characters. They helped flesh out the world of Alice Walker and they were able to bring additional dimension to that time and place.
The music also was fantastic, taking a break from the usual Broadway musical fare. The songs were steeped in gospel, blues, juke joint jazz, African folk music, and rhythm and blues.
The vocals of every performer were superb. Hicks was especially commanding as she managed to maneuver her vocals through the composition while still maintain the nuances of her character.
Gregory’s performance of “Celie’s Curse” superbly portrayed the gamut of emotions of a man in turmoil, full of defiance, fear, and ultimately regret and redemption. It was one of the evening’s dramatic highlights.
The duet between Hicks and Stewart, “What About Love,” also brought tears to the eyes because the pair were able to strike the right emotional chords.
One of the keys to the show was the orchestra, conducted by Darryl Archibald. They, to borrow a pun, hit all the right notes on the music and lyrics created by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray.
As I noted, I didn’t know what to expect heading into Hartford on Dec. 5. But what I found was a show that moved me emotionally.
I give “The Color Purple” four out of four stars.
“The Color Purple” will be performed at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m. Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
For tickets, go to www.bushnell.org