ArtSpoken & Reviews
The Color Purple is, quite simply, awesome
Jennifer de Klerk02/05/2018 11:57:02
Jennifer de Klerk: It is not often I get the shivers during a musical, but I did in The Color Purple, an emotional powerhouse with amazing music.
It is not a musical I know well, so I went in blind ready to appreciate without preconception.
And appreciate I did. A spacious set sparsely and imaginatively constructed from wood slats builds the atmosphere of the dirt-poor, rural American South in the 1930s. Slavery is only a generation or two away, women are the chattels of men and the church is solace, community and release, belting out Gospel numbers and spirituals that lift heart and soul.
We follow the life of Celie, poor, uneducated and abused physically and emotionally. We hear her scream against God as she is robbed of everything she values. We watch her grow, until she finds the belief and confidence to access her own God-given power and set herself free … “I am poor, I am black, but I am HERE!”
At this point the auditorium erupted - to be sure, this was opening night packed with fans, friends and family. Still, it was well deserved. Didintle Khunou is an awesome Celie, with the voice and presence to carry the big numbers and plenty of sweet emotion for the gentle and very beautiful ballads.
Through movement and expression, she builds the character, the young girl raped by her stepfather, forced to give up her children and virtually sold to a man who beats and abuses her.
She endures to protect her beloved younger sister, Nettie, a charming portrayal by Sebe Leotlela, and is inspired by tough, larger-than life Sofia, a powerful performance from Neo Motaung. Yay, Sister!
Aubrey Poo is menacing as Mister, the macho abuser who learns the hard way that women can bite back. He has a memorable solo in which he realises his failures and his need for redemption.
Other key roles are Lerato Mvelase as Shug, the mesmerising blues singer from Memphis, and the trio of church gossips, wickedly funny and accomplished in their musical.
Under the direction of Janice Honeyman, each scene is a harmony, whether the cast are dancing exuberantly – and they certainly do - or dark figures adding atmosphere in the distance going about their work. The lighting by Mannie Manim is exquisite.
There is a strong Gospel message throughout this musical, augmented by the emotional lyrics and always uplifted by the score, delivered with perfect timing by Rowan Bakker and his orchestra.
This is a tough world, a world of poverty and constant injustice and hardship. The message is to celebrate faith and love, discover the power of God within and so overcome. The colour purple? The colour of the wildflowers, splashes of brilliant colour which inspire, light up and redeem an unjust world.
This is a vibrant musical presented by a dynamic all-South African cast who bring to the story, written in 1983, a heartfelt realism. These are issues that are still at the heart of our society today.
Artistically the Color Purple is, quite simply, awesome. I shall never look at anything purple in quite the same light again.
The Color Purple is at the Joburg Theatre until March 4.
Jennifer de Klerk is editor of Artslink.co.za
Joburg Theatre Complex, Loveday Street Braamfontein Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa