The Color Purple is the type of show I want to watch over and over again. I want to relive Celie’s journey through all the good but also the bad times. I want to feel my heart beating a thousands times a minute and then being ripped out of my chest, all because it was real, raw and authentic. The Color Purple is the type of show that draws you in from the moment it begins as a young Celie and Nettie dance onto stage, and then it never lets you go. You’re sucked in and although it’s set in Atlanta Georgia in past time where the deep Southern accents had you listening closer where they were difficult to understand, it still felt so relevant for such a time as this.
Set against an incredibly artistic stage design by Sarah Roberts that is both practical and mimics the then dusty South of America, the cast’s strong and powerful voices filled the room with effortless brilliance and awoke goose bumps on my body. Together with the musical team led by Rowan Bakker and the actors, the music had me on a roller coaster of tapping my feet or holding back tears. The Choir ladies who narrated us through the story showcased their amazing voices and talented trickery of overlapping vocals, along with a little bit of sass. Harpo’s Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri’s deep and soulful voice contrasted against Squeak’s sweet and high pitched vocals plays by Funeka Peppeta and the husky sounds of Lerato Mvelase as Shug Avery, displaying the marvelous range of a cast who understood the depth of the words they were singing. However, heavy themes such as rape, abuse and misogyny were dealt with in an unusually light manner perhaps showing how desensitized Celie had become; yet it was still sensitive enough that you felt her pain and struggle. Especially in her moments alone with God under toned by the silence of the audience.
In the electricity of the opening night, there were many of these moments. Moments where the air felt thick with baited breath, or moments where the audience cheered, clapped and stood up in agreement and triumph. Somehow The Color Purple managed to connect us all, both performer and spectator, all apart of the same experience.
Didntle Khunou’s performance of Celie was, of course, a standout. She embodied her character from a young and naïve girl, to a strong and powerful woman scarred with all of her life’s tribulations. Khunou’s voice was so pure and raw that her heart wrenching shouts to God had you questioning and praying along with her. As a young actor, she exemplified such a heavy and complex character with ease. It’s hard to believe that this is Sofia’s Neo Motaung’s first major performance as she had such a strong presence on stage. Her devilishly comical laugh and no-nonsense attitude had you murmuring in agreement saying, ‘Preach it sister!’ Aubrey Poo’s portrayal of Mister made you hate him yet love him, and his crisp, clear articulation meant that he had you hanging on the cusp of every word. All these wonderful performances strung together by the multi-awarding winning director Janice Honeyman, who reminds us she’s not just the pantomime queen.
The dance moves by Oscar Buthelezi were organic and purposefully interwoven in to the performance and story, and you sometimes forgot this is a musical. The production felt intentional, and the applause at the end of a musical number was not a forced appraisal, but rather an emotional response. The Color Purple lingers with you a long while after the auditorium empties out. There aren’t many words to describe the feeling because it must be felt with the whole body, it must be experienced.
So without spoiling anymore, as the choir ladies say, that is all I got’s to say.
All images by enroCpics.