Brilliantly Bold Color Purple Soars Beautifully a Second Time Round

Pictures: @enroCpics 

Sisters Celie and Nettie
Sisters Celie (right) and Nettie at opposite sides of the world on different continents.





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





MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Rowan Bakker (with an orchestra of 8)

CHOREOGRAPHER: Oscar Buthelezi

VENUE: Nelson Mandela at the Joburg Theatre

DATES: Until September 2

Celie and the women in celebration
Celie and the women in celebration

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and with one major change, Lelo Ramasimong as the sassy Shug Avery, (previously one of a trio of church ladies who has been replaced by Masego Mothibakgomo, who slips seamlessly into this powerful threesome) the rest of the cast has been given the chance to finetune their performances and even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.

Aubrey Poo as Mister
Mister (Aubrey Poo), Shug Avery (Lelo Ramasimon) and her beau and Celie (Didintle Khunou)

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).

Shug Avery and her admirers
Shug Avery (Lelo Ramasimong) and her admirers

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.

The Colour Purple is Bold, Black and Beautiful

Pictures: @enroCpics




color purple7
Shug Avery (Lerato Mvelase) leads the pack in The Color Purple




DIRECTOR: Janice Honeyman

CAST: Didintle Khunou (Celie), Lerato Mvelase (Shug Avery), Aubrey Poo (Mister), Neo Motaung (Sofia), Sebe Leotlela (Nettie), Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri (Harpo) and the rest of the 20-strong ensemble






MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Rowan Bakker (and part of an orchestra of 8)

CHORO0EGRAPHER: Oscar Buthelezi

VENUE: Nelson Mandela at the Joburg Theatre

DATES: Until March 4


It’s always a gamble these huge musical productions but following Dream Girls and King Kong specifically, we have built up enough of a track record to understand that we can pull it off.

color purple6
Didintle Khunou as the indomitable Celie in The Color Purple.

And as this one proves incontrovertibly, we easily have the depth of performance talent. This is BIG music, but what that means is that it gives a musical veteran like Aubrey Poo an opportunity to sing a number like Celie’s Curse as he has never sung before – and he has had many amazing moments on stage in the past, but here he lets rip with an emotional heft that is completely in sync with the character. On the other side of the spectrum, it gives a solo newcomer like Didintle Khunou the chance to shine as she takes Celie and gives the character life. Both make these moments majestically their own – again and again.

color purple5
Aubrey Poo as Mister opting for change in Celie’s Curse.

As a musical, it is the perfect storm for right now. Based on the acclaimed Alice Walker story, the reach is wide and covers a multitude of sins, including substance, gender and domestic abuse so dominant in our current world which is what makes this such a relevant piece.

In our country with so much strife, a celebration of especially black talent in a world where the stories are still told from a predominantly white point of view is important and poignant, hence the magical reaction and participation of the audience. There was no doubt about their appreciation of what they were encountering on stage.

And rightly so. For audiences, this is a musical to get stuck into. It’s not about pretty songs and lively dancing. It’s grappling with intense emotions while telling a story of a young girl who after being raped by her father resulting in two pregnancies, is given to a brutal man who treats her in similar fashion. She’s his to look after and he can do with her as he wishes. She has absolutely no say in the matter.

color purple3
Didintle Khunou as Celie (front) with Lerato Mvelase as Shug Avery.

Anyone who could bring some light into her days is banished, like her sister Nettie, with Mister (her husband) making sure she never hears from her again. It’s a miserable life still experienced by so many voiceless in this world.

While abuse tops the list, many other issues are dealt with, including refugees – a problem of our time, but as this one shows, nothing new. But even in the worst of times, redemption is a possibility and that is what gives this musical its power. People can step up and change and others can embrace the moment in all its authenticity. It’s a musical with quite a few teary moments – which is not the norm with these kinds of spectacles.

Speaking to some of the soloists beforehand, all of them commented on the music and how tough these songs are to sing. But they have stepped up and inhabited the music – all of them, soloists and ensembles included.

color purple8

From the chorus of three women (Lelo Ramasimong, Dolly Louw, Ayanda Sibisi) who throughout comment sharply on what is on their mind, to Khunou as the earnest Celie and Mvelase as the flamboyant Shug Avery, the show-stopping Any Little Thing by Sofia (Motaung) and Harpo (Mahaka-Phiri), which brings much needed light relief, while Leotlela taps into her emotions as Nettie when she tells her sister about her children, it’s musical heaven.

color purple4
Harpo (Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri) and Sofia (Neo Motaung) performing the glorious Any Little Thing.

With a stunning set design, which is uncluttered and allows the lighting to tell magnificent tales, to the choreography that pushes boundaries, underpinned by the Honeyman staging which pulls the story together – which is no easy task – this is a sublime coming together of all the elements.

It is a musical where you have to engage, you have to listen to the lyrics and allow the performers to take over with their emotions in full flow. It’s high notes and low in both song and understanding, it’s detailed with heaps of humanity first trampled on and then celebrated.

And in the South African context, it’s about time. We have so many stories to tell and with our diversity at the forefront, it should cover the full spectrum and allow everyone to shine as they do on that stage.

It’s truly glorious to experience how we take a universal story and make it our own.