Review of The Color Purple at The Muny

    In its first appearance at The Muny, The Color Purple receives a stellar production.

    The show has a wonderful score by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray and a compelling book by Marsha Norman. It is based upon the novel written by Alice Walker and the Warner Bros./Amblin Entertainment motion picture.

    The action takes place in Georgia from 1911 to 1945. The central character is Celie, who is 14 years old at the outset. She is pregnant for the second time by Pa, who takes the baby from her after it is born, just as he did before. The one source of comfort for Celie is her deep connection with her younger sister, Nettie.

    Celie leaves this abusive home for another one when Pa marries her off to Mister after refusing to let Mister marry the much prettier Nettie. Mister beats Celie and consigns her to a life of menial work.

    After leaving Pa’s home, Nettie takes refuge with Celie and Mister, but this arrangement ends when she recoils from his attempt to have sex with her. Mister drives Nettie away and promises to keep the sisters parted.

    Despite her many misfortunes, Celie survives and eventually triumphs. Her remarkable journey has a heartwarming conclusion.

    The Muny cast is superb. Anastacia McCleskey brilliantly portrays the decency and resilience that enable Celia to endure blow after blow. McCleskey is a marvel in Celie’s great anthem, “I’m Here.”

    Evan Tyrone Martin encompasses the full range of Mister’s passions and convincingly depicts Mister’s growth in the second act. Nasia Thomas is a beacon of love as Nettie, while Duane Martin Foster is  menacing as Pa.

    Mister’s son, Harpo, learns that he cannot follow his father’s example in dealing with the two strong-minded women in his life: Sofia, his wife, and Squeak, the aspiring singer Harpo takes up with after Sofia leaves him. These characters and their relationships are brought vividly to life by Gilbert Domally as Harpo, Nicole Michelle Haskins as Sofia, Erica Durham as Squeak

    Tracee Beazer conveys both the public self-possession and the private vulnerability of the free-spirited entertainer, Shug Avery. Mister has long loved her, but his father, Ol’ Mister, would not allow the marriage because of Shug’s reputation for loose living. Eventually Shug and Celie form a strong attachment. Omega Jones stands out as Ol’ Mister and the Preacher.

    The music sounds glorious as performed by The Muny cast and orchestra under music director Jermaine Hill. Breon Arzell’s inventive choreography is a wonder to behold on the spacious Muny stage.

    The storytelling is clear and moving under Lili-Anne Brown’s direction. Arnel Sancianco’s scenic design features a single set for the entire show. A tiered platform at the rear of the stage is surrounded by high walls made of wooden panels. Welcome color and specificity are provided by Paul Deziel’s video design, Samantha C. Jones’s costumes, Heather Gilbert’s lighting, Kelley Jordan’s wigs, and John Shivers and David Patridge’s sound.

    The Color Purple continues at 8:15 p.m. through Tuesday, August 9, at The Muny in Forest Park.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Julie A. Merkle
    From the left: Tracee Beazer as Shug and Anastacia McCleskey as Celie.