DIANE DE BEER
THE COLOR PURPLE
DIRECTOR: Janice Honeyman
CAST: Didintle Khunou (Celie), Lelo Ramasimong (Shug Avery), Aubrey Poo (Mister), Neo Motaung (Sofia), Sebe Leotlela (Nettie), Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri (Harpo) and the rest of the 20-strong ensemble
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Bernard Jay
PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Sarah Roberts
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Mannie Manim
SOUND DESIGNER: Richard Smith
MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Rowan Bakker (with an orchestra of 8)
CHOREOGRAPHER: Oscar Buthelezi
VENUE: Nelson Mandela at the Joburg Theatre
DATES: Until September 2
It’s rare in this country that big musicals like this one get a second season but so popular was The Color Purple first time round, it has returned with huge fanfare in Woman’s Month. And that’s a good thing.
This is quite a show and with one major change, Lelo Ramasimong as the sassy Shug Avery, (previously one of a trio of church ladies who has been replaced by Masego Mothibakgomo, who slips seamlessly into this powerful threesome) the rest of the cast has been given the chance to finetune their performances and even though, first time round, it was already spectacular, Khunou as Celie, for example, has grown magnificently in what was the first time round, a debut performance in such a huge and iconic role.
It feels as if she has slipped into Celie’s shoes more comfortably than then with a confidence that allows her to soar and in the quieter songs, it’s as if she trusts the moment and just is who she should be.
But so are the rest of the cast, from the much more experienced Poo who revels in his portrayal of Mister because of the arc he travels in every show as the one who probably has the most extreme turnaround – from the abuser to one who finally sees the value of the one he never cherished and lost.
Seeing a musical again that the first time round had so much impact is always a time to reflect and reassess but if anything, the effect is even more dramatic because this time round, there are no surprises, it’s just the show and the performers.
One must remember the genre and how much it allows. The story is grave and as much of its time as it is of now. That’s the horror, that so little has changed for women, the lack of power they often have over their own lives and the abuse they face on a daily basis. It sounds as familiar now as it did then and the murmuring and cheering from the audience affirms that. They know and understand these women and their circumstances and are also rooting for change.
Celie is a woman who as a child is abused by her father who rapes her resulting in two children who he gives away. She is then passed on to another abusive man who does with her as he pleases while she cares for his children and his home with no say in the matter. It’s heavy stuff and without delving too deeply, it is the performances and the songs that tell as much of this tragic story as possible. The emotions run high and while abuse tops the list, many other issues are dealt with in this story of redemption.
The music is quite extraordinary and there are many showstoppers, some because of their emotional message like Celie’s Somebody Gonna Love You, Sofia and the women’s Hell, No and Celie’s I’m Here with the titles almost the only explanation necessary but then there’s also Celie and the women’s triumphant Miss Celie’s Pants and the show stopping Any Little Thing by Sofia (Motaung) and Harpo (Mahaka-Phiri).
Ramasimong brings the house down and her sexy Shug to life with her show number and Nettie (Leotlela) lets the tears roll with African Homeland.
It’s a musical where all the elements hold together starting with an imaginative set that is enhanced by luminous lighting while Honeyman has picked and honed her performers – each one of them – to perfection, to tell a story both powerful and poignant.
Once and for all, this glorious cast has made their point. It is all about storytelling. You have to engage, listen to the lyrics and allow the performers to come alive with their emotions in full flow. Like the first time round, it’s high notes and low in song and understanding, and the story is delivered with heaps of humanity first trampled on and then celebrated.
That’s life as we know it but sometimes deny and this is yet another way we can grapple with it and come to grips with the horror of abuse.
And it sounded as if the row of Singaporeans behind me with Bernard Jay in tow, were certainly planning to make this an extended traveling season. This is talent we want to export.