|The Color Purple
Corn Stock Theatre
August 21 - 29
By Stan Strickler
The Color Purple did not just open on Friday night at Corn Stock; it exploded with great force and power with a wonderful opening gospel number before revealing its tender story of love, resilience, and redemption. It alternates between rousing gospel songs, sweet tender love songs, and a beautiful song of hope and belief at the end of the show.
The story, which deals with modern, more mature, subject matter than older musicals, revolves around Celie and her relationships during a forty year period. It begins with her as a pregnant fourteen-year-old girl living with her sister Nettie and her abusive stepfather who as soon as the baby is born gives it away in spite of Celie’s love and attachment to the child. Eventually she is forced to marry Mister who needs her to work at his house and take care of his children. Unfortunately he beats her, separates her from her sister who promises to write her, and then hides the mail from her. Eventually through the help of friends, notably Shug Avery, and Sophia, her stepson’s wife, she finds freedom and self-respect.
Directors Molly Burroughs and Sharon Samuels Reed have assembled a remarkable cast who sing superbly and act with great conviction. As Celie, Gabriella Lott-Rogers delivers a Broadway-caliber performance that is by turns subservient, thoughtful, and eventually self-confident and forgiving. A true highlight of the show was the last song, “The Color Purple” performed with great hope and conviction by her and the entire cast. It was truly moving. But no show would be as successful as this one were it not for the other main cast members. As Harpo, York Powers was by turns tender and loving, forceful, and humorous. Sam Hardimon as Mister gave a powerful performance in his role as the violent husband who finally learns that love is the real answer. Renee Andrews is very good as Nettie who comes into her own as a missionary in Africa. Jamika Russell does a fine job as Sophia and is by turns funny, strong willed, and forgiving. Also giving stellar performances were Tagwana Webster as Squeak and Ayana Pankey as the strong willed and independent Shug Avery who finally shows Celie how to be her own person.
Sharon Reed is to be commended for her superb musical direction. She also conducts the orchestra and generally finds the right balance between it and the singers on stage although there were a couple of times that the orchestra was a little too loud making it a little difficult to hear the lyrics of the song. But considering they were entirely hidden from view of the stage, it is a minor matter, and I’m sure it will be corrected as the run continues (which I hope is for a very long time). Taunya L. Jenkins choreographed the dances beautifully and powerful, particularly in the African numbers which were exciting and beautiful.
Set design by Julie Wasson and light design by Megan Larke were also quite good defining the space well and allowing for swift set changes between the many scenes. My biggest complaint with this show has little to do with the actual performances, but more with the musical itself. Since the story began as a novel, it is sometimes difficult to translate the many scenes and subplots into a musical. Therefore this show requires undivided attention since the plot must move along quickly, and if the audience is not paying strict attention, it may miss some of the important information and relationships portrayed.
Finally my hats off to Corn Stock for a wonderful season, and for giving us a regional community theater premier of a newer work that allowed many wonderfully talented people who too often are ignored by the local theater community to perform in a heartfelt and emotional show that is moving and hopeful.
The Color Purple continues at Corn Stock with performances at 7:30 pm each night through Saturday. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for ages 18 & younger and are on sale at the box office, by calling 309-676-2196 or online at www.CornStockTheatre.com
Posted on August 22, 2015