Theater review: Song and dance reinforce ‘Purple”s inspirational story

Jaden Dominique as Celie and DeQuina Moore as Shug Avery in “Purple.” Photo by Jared Mono Photography

With Alice Walker’s award-winning novel and Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed film, the musical version of “Purple” always has a lot to fill.

The Maine Musical Theatre boldly kicked off the production of the 2005 musical and succeeded in doing just that. Billed as “the most inspiring show of the summer,” this dynamic and spirited production has it all.

Just like the book and the movie, the musical by E. Faye Butler runs for over two hours at the old Pickard Theatre and contains a lot of stories and plenty of entertaining songs and dance. Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick.

Set in Georgia at the beginning of the 20th century, the story includes elderly former slaves, their descendants, as they struggle with poverty and marginality in a racially divided world where all forms of cruelty, exploitation and despair make the future more difficult. Hopes for a better future are dashed.

An oppressed victim of sexual and domestic abuse, young Celie struggles to remember the good old days she had with her bright younger sister Nettie. But her relationship with a tough guy named Mister gradually eroded her self-esteem. Church and personal friends, especially the lively Sophia, keep her spirits up just as much as the showy entertainer Sugar Avery she falls in love with.

In Marsha Norman’s original musical, it’s all about developing a strong sense of identity for Sealy. She could no longer tolerate oppression from within the male-dominated African-American community, as well as from threats of beatings and lynchings near the larger world. Celie saying “things are tough here” is an understatement.

Nila Watson (Doris), Tara Conor Jones (Jaylene) and Lanette Wallace (Dalene) in “Purple.”

Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray’s songs range from gospel and blues to jazz, African and mainstream Broadway styles (“Shug’s Too Beautiful for Words” is one of the best). Viewers did have to occasionally recalibrate their ears, though, when the overall country, folk vibe of the show shifted to a big vocal anthem mode.

Jaden Dominique’s Celie was so sympathetic (“Someone Will Love You”) that audiences openly supported her final pushback (“I’m here”) in her censored performance. Dominic’s beefed-up voice boldly reflects Sealy’s presence, and by the end of the show it’s clear just how much the actress, like her character, is holding back in the early scenes.

Dominique’s duet with Tavia Rivée as sister Nettie is touching (“Huckleberry Pie”), while DeQuina Moore’s brassy but knowing Shug’s poignancy (“What About Love”) pushes the action to Shug’s poetic moment (“Huckleberry Pie”) The color purple”).

Maiesha McQueen is an eclectic Sofia (“Hell No!”), the inspiration for Celie. Mr. Cruel (“Big Dog”), played by Kelvin Roston, Jr., stands firm until the assembled female power leads him and his son Harper (played by Lawrence Flowers (played by Lawrence Flowers). “Any Little Thing”) goes the other direction (“Mister’s Song”).

Dori Waymer (Squeak), Lawrence Flowers (Harpo) and the “Purple” cast of Maine Musical Theatre.

Dance episodes by Church Ladies, Field Hands and others (choreographed by Flo Walker-Harris) include popular period forms with a touch of African expression. Live music directed by Jarred Lee supports the performers in Botarri and Case’s costume design. These sets, predicted by Charles S Kading and Ryan Swift Joyner, place players in a barren rural enclave where dreams, however improbable, remain can be realised.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer living in Portland.


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