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The Color Purple

A richly woven story of love, friendship and the strong bond of Womanhood.

By David Simmons

If there was ever a greater time for women to feel empowered in the world and most importantly in South Africa, that time is now! The Color Purple, currently showing at the Joburg Theatre, couldn’t have come at a more auspicious time. Women all over the world, empowered by the Times Up movement are uniting as one and marching with a clear and powerful voice, echoing the struggles of their ancestors and all the many hardships they had to endure. The Color Purple is one such story, a celebration and at times a strained battle of the struggles of women, their determination to survive and overcome their darkest adversities.

Stories of hope, love, friendship and ultimately redemption always ring true to one’s heart and through music, song and dance we tend to hear and understand the message with a more vivid and clear ring. It is not often one gets to witness on stage something so remarkable and poignant that it leaves you feeling numb and speechless, yet at the same time empowered and overjoyed. The Color Purple with its rich cocktail of emotions will leave a completely different imprint on each and every theatre goer, making the experience all the more worthwhile.

The production which officially opened on Sunday the 4th of February to rapturous applause, is its first major international staging since the Broadway revival and this musical, with its smart and clever direction, is bound to take Johannesburg by storm. The Color Purple is by no means a glamourous showcase. It’s raw, its gutsy but has a temperament that is bound to have you leaping out of your seats and rejoicing in unison with the characters on stage!

It takes a massive team to bring a production of this scale to life and huge credit needs to be given to Production Designer, Sarah Roberts, and Mannie Manim as the Lightening Designer, who both transported audience members to a bygone era where the atmosphere was bleak, yet the characters vivid and commanding in their respective roles. The music, under the baton of Rowan Bakker, brilliantly brought the sumptuous and evocative score to life, filling the theatre with sounds of jazz, gospel and ragtime numbers. Executive Producer Bernard Jay and Director Janice Honeyman, both who need very little introduction, have given this rousing musical wings and gifted us with an incredible and moving story.

The plot is simple, but the characters are complicated, allowing the audience to witness their troubled lives of anguish and determination up close and personal. We are introduced to sisters Celie and Nettie both intrinsically connected not only by birth but with a bond that will stand the test of time. They are separated through circumstance and both have to venture into the unknown hardships of life and the difficulties of being a woman. Celie, under the abusive and watchful eye of Mister finds her voice through two exceptional characters, Sofia and Shug Avery whose friendship and morals allow her to find her true path in the world.

I revisited Alice Walker’s novel for a light recap a few weeks before the Musical opened. I whisked through the book savouring every page and understanding the complexities of the characters and the women who are central in making this story so real and relatable. Stand out performances from Didintle Khunou who brought Celie’s character to life and Sebe Leotlela who played Nettie with dignity and affection both expressing buckets loads of rich and notable talent.

Neo Motaung’s Sofia, who as played by Oprah Winfrey in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film, blew me away. I loved her character from beginning to end, her strength, spirit and gutsy laugh was a joy to watch. Lerato Mvelase who played Shug Avery gave a memorable and determined role capturing equal amounts of strength and vulnerability.

Other noteworthy performances were Aubrey Poo whose character resembled the antagonist of the story, was stoic and memorable. The all South African cast were exceptional with clockwork performances showcasing some of the best talents we have in the country. Once couldn’t fault their deep southern drawl’s which made this stirring musical all the more authentic. Oscar Buthelezi, The Color Puple’s Choreographer, expertly created dance numbers of substance, bringing the past to life. With musical numbers such as Hell No and I’m Here, you’ll soon discover that this musical means business.

Oprah Winfrey’s Cecil B Demille Life time achievement speech at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards echoed everything that The Color Purple stands for. It was profound, real and captured the hearts of women and audience members alike:

‘What I know for sure, is speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I am especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories”.

This hugely ambitious offering has an almost spiritual voice, one that I haven’t experienced on a South African stage in a very long time. I laughed, I cried but most importantly I felt a wonderful togetherness with my fellow theatre goers who collectively experienced and witnessed something quite remarkable on stage. If there is one musical you see this year- let it be this one!

The Color Purple will be running at the Joburg Theatre until 4 March 2018. Tickets are available at Webtickets or at the theatre.

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