For its third main stage production in 2022, the Maine Musical Theatre put on a wonderful, beautiful, authentic and heartwarming performance for the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s epistolary novel The Color Purple. This epic story chronicles the journey of its complex characters from hardship and pain to hope and recovery. An inspiring and uplifting tale of resilience, redemption, and love with a powerful universality, in this astonishing production from E. Faye Butler, it becomes One of those memorable transformative moments in theater.
The 2005 adaptation of The Purple closely follows the plotline of the source material, meticulously condensing and integrating it into a tightly woven script in which every moment—whether spoken or sung—drives the storyline development of. Marsha Norman’s book retains emotional and narrative high points, while Brenda Russell/Allee Willis/Stephen Bray’s music and lyrics combine rich gospel, jazz, blues, African and ragtime to create context and enhance the depth of performance.
Director E. Faye Butler brings wit and empathy to her storytelling, and she’s clearly inspired the entire cast and creative team to take this production to the next level. Her narrative framework is seamless—in fact, so tightly crafted that the work seems to blend into the song almost through composition (though not literally) and dialogue with no apparent sense of transition. Her pace is brisk, and her intuition for deeply emotional moments is unmistakable.
Tony Nominated for her portrayal of Sophia in a Broadway Original, Felicia P. Fields proved her invaluable source of savvy artistic advice and support for Butler and the production.
Choreographer Flo Walker-Harris brings a diverse dance vocabulary to the production, drawing on the styles of the era, combining jazz, tap, African movement and sheer musical theatre energy. Like a song, the dance grows organically from the movements, never interrupting, but always enhancing.
Jarred Lee, Music Director on the Keyboard, conducts a dazzling vocal performance with an elegant and dynamic eight-piece orchestra.
Physical products have rich visual value. Landscape designer Charles S. Kading created a simple group of units with sliding panels to define different areas, constructed from neutral distressed wood with projections by Ryan Swift Joyner. Lighting designer Jeffrey S. Koger adds color to pastel shades that allude to the dusty heat of rural Georgia, the gleaming interior of a jukebox, or the ever-present metaphor of purple. Bottari and Case (costume coordinator Kathleen Payton Brown, wig designer Kevin S. Foster II) featured clothing reminiscent of the early 20th century, blending the understated clothing of poor rural life with the glamour of Shug Avery’s wardrobe and the bold fabrics of Africans Compare scenarios. Shannon Slaton provided his customary balanced soundscapes and atmospheric sounds reminiscent of farmland and African plains, while production stage manager Mark Johnston (Amy Bertacini, assistant stage manager) deftly hosted the production.
The 18-man cast, many of whom made their MSMT debuts, provided a tight-knit ensemble. Newcomer Jayden Domink, as the protagonist Sealy, is impressive both as an actor and a singer, showing an extraordinary sense of presence and maturity. Her transformation from the timid, abused child to the determined, even defiant woman was astounding and inspiring, and when she stood triumphantly to the end, her love and ego proved, nowhere in the house dry eye. Vocalally, she has a rich, deep voice capable of evoking emotional outbursts that rock the theatre. On opening night, she was given a long standing ovation at the end of “I’m Here”.
Tavia Rivee plays her sister Nettie as a gentle, bright, almost poetic soul whose presence and epistolary voice form the core of Celie’s faith and strength. Her duet with her sister “Our Prayer” is one of the highlights of the show.
DeQuina Moore portrays Shug Avery as a warm-hearted, free-spirited fresh air whose charisma and charisma completely explains why Shug is her catalytic character. With some of the most poignant numbers on the show, Moore pulled heartstrings with “Beautiful beyond words” and “What about love?”
Maiesha McQueen made Sofia a vibrant, otherworldly being, destroying the house with her oversized “Hell No.”
Dori Waymer is the consummately flirtatious, ambitious Squeak who seems frivolous but finds enough courage to defend herself and her future.
With stunning voice and dramatic performance, Kelvin Roston, Jr., as Mr. Mister’s journey from atrocity to repentance and redemption; deeply flawed as both victim and perpetrator, he brings The epiphany of compassion and repentance (“Mr. Song”) is moving.
As Harpo, Lawrence Flowers delivers a lively and engaging performance about a young man seeking to break the destructive generational cycle of his male ancestors.
The talented ensemble fleshes out the narrative by playing a variety of characters with idiomatic excellence. As gossipy church ladies, Lanette Wallace (Dalene), Tara Connor Jones (Jaylene) and Neela Watson (Doris) form a kind of gospel chorus, often commenting with savage wit action. Mikayla Jane and Willie Clyde Beaton II are delighted to appear as Olivia and Adam respectively.
Korie Lee Blossey as Pa, Ron King as Grady, Darren Lorenzo as Preacher and Ol’ Mister, Devon Price as Bobby and Dance Captain, Courtney Blackmun as Sister Sofia, and Swing Tyler Johnson-Campion round out this dynamic cast.
With the production of The Color Purple, Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark and MSMT are in artistic achievement and fulfilling what Clark calls “theatre’s responsibility to illuminate the human condition, inspire change and spark dialogue to bring us together. “Unlike the style and content of many of the musicals on MSMT’s roster, The Color Purple showcases the company’s range, versatility and depth of skill set. Realized with visionary and compassionate imagination, with refined aesthetics and dramatic sensibility, The Purple takes viewers on a soul-rich journey that affirms and strengthens our shared humanity.
Photos courtesy of MSMT, photographer Jared Morneau
THE COLOR PURPLE at the MSMT Picard Theatre, Bowdoin College Campus, 1 Bath Road, Brunswick, Maine July 20-August 6, 2022 www.msmt.org 207-725-8769