Packed with spirit and sentiment, but lacking the craftsmanship and realism of Stephen Spielberg’s film and Alice Walker’s novel, the new Broadway musical of “The Color Purple” is an awkward, unstructured show that does not work effectively onstage.
The story of Celie, a poor black woman in the South over the course of several decades at the turn of the century, demands too many plot devices and a dependence on horror and sentiment. Although its zealous religiosity shines in a handful of soaring gospel numbers, the show’s creators were not able to successfully adapt the saga for the mainstream Broadway stage.
Leading lady LaChanze attempts to make a transformation from appearing fourteen years old in her first scene to being as an old woman in her last. Though she is a fine actress who might even win a Tony for such serious efforts, her performance lacks believability and restraint.
The score, written by three novices to the stage, is derivative, repetitive and distastefully realized. The electric pop sound mixed with rhythm and blues is not appropriate for the story, and demands too many moments of weepy ballad belting. Perhaps a more experienced team such as Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (“Ragtime,” “Once on This Island”) could have effectively translated the story into song.
Direct Gary Griffin has added a glossy finish that attempts to hide the musical’s problems, and the official endorsement of Oprah Winfrey will surely boost ticket sales. Still, many may expect and hope for better from a serious Broadway musical than what “The Color Purple” offers.
Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, 212-239-6200, $26.25-101.25. Tues 8pm, Wed 2 & 8pm, Thurs-Fri 8pm, Sat 2 & 8pm, Sun 3pm.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.