Purple is an ode to empowerment. On opening night, thunderous applause paused “Purple” multiple times at the Maine Musical Theater. It was clear from the start that the musical was real, raw, real. Those lucky enough to be there can feel it in the air – a bright, brilliant beam of light on all of us,
Purple is based on a novel by Alice Walker – go find it. I want to tell you about the heart, you can and should read this book for yourself.
The living, beating heart of this show is women. From the moment two little girls play a game of clapping on the steps to the resounding Amen at the end, this story is about overcoming odds.
Redemption blooms with brilliance in the darkest corners where secrets are overlooked. The “purple” of MSMT should be noticed and celebrated.
Tavia Rivée as Nettie, Maiesha McQueen as Sofia and DeQuina Moore as Shug are three powerful stage “sisters” whose passion for the indomitable women they portray is palpable. Each in their own way shares some self-awareness with young Celie (Jaden Dominique).
DeQuina Moore as Shug Avery brings back the queen bee to the hive, where every man, woman and thing that breathes in her realm wants her, loves her or worships her from afar. Moore sold every song, every move on stage, and every time she left with a lingering memory of her dynamic presence.
Dequina Moore (Shug) and Jaden Dominque (Celie)’s duet “How’s Love?” brings the audience to tears. The reviewer was delighted to see part of the story revived in the musical. Celie’s unlikely love and return for her husband’s longtime mistress is a big part of the journey, and the gorgeous duet is the perfect ending to the emotional roller coaster of Act 1.
Maiesha McQueen (Sofia) packs a real punch with the anti-domestic violence fight song “Hell No!” The audience cheered and cheered in support of Sophia’s strength. Every time she comes on stage, we cheer for her. Especially in the second act, when Sophia appears to be finally defeated, and then bounces back again, stronger than ever, the love pours out of the footlights again.
Maiesha McQueen (Sofia) and Lawrence Flowers (Harpo) are both hilarious and delightful in their “Reunited, It Feels Good” duet “Any Little Thing” in Act Two, and have no doubts about their appeal, no, each other’s desires.
Tavia Rivée (Nettie) is Celie’s beloved sister and we knew and felt the love from the very beginning. It was Nettie’s memory that filled Celie with hope and memory of love. Rivee is a joyous presence in her African scene, telling Celie about letters, and the wonderful surprise at the end. (I already told you to read books.)
The joy of the music resonates with anyone who’s been victimized, and again, it’s a shout out in Celie. Jayden Dominque’s Celie brings subtle nuance to what could be just another woman who’s been beaten, raped, and abused. She uses her body and posture to show the defensive stance that Celie needs to protect herself. Celie really needs to protect herself. Celie was shy and scared at first, Celie was abused in various ways, women can be abused.
When Jayden Dominique takes the stage as Celie in Act Two, she refuses to be beaten, she is the embodiment of victory. Her solo “I’m Here” had the audience cheering, loudly supporting, and celebrating with her. She’s the youngest actress ever to play Celie, and she holds the audience’s heart with her hands, and when Celie wins in the song, the whole place goes crazy. You see, The Purple is a musical, and if you love it long and loud, it will love you. Just like Celie – it never gives up hope.
Then Kelvin Roston Jr, (Mr.). Mr. Roston has undergone a transformation as important as Sealy’s. He’s approachable and commanding on stage, but with a tinge of desire and need. He wanted recognition, but only knew what he was taught. “So tell me how a man can be good when all he knows is bad??” he laments in “Mr. Song.” Well done sir, it’s a good thing that he atoned for what happened before or tried to do so, and Roston made us believe it all.
The entire cast is fantastic, a skillful ensemble that delivers dedication and authenticity to every part of the story. They dance, they sing—and they do it all expertly, as they bring Alice Walker’s gritty novel to life gloriously.
Director E. Faye Butler brings joyous empathy and inspiration to the entire team. Alice Walker’s book is one of the most challenged books in schools and libraries for its brutal honesty, which is exactly why it should be read over and over again. Director E Faye Butler gave each actor a copy of the book, giving them backstory, details not seen in the script. This intuitive choice of the director is undoubtedly why every moment is unique.
Her deft hands never miss a beat, creating moments of intense emotion but softening them with a gentle touch. The balance between light and dark was missing here in previous releases, and I owe that to E. Faye Butler for her dedication to presenting the original story with authenticity and love.
The dance choreographed by the incomparable Flowalk Harris is seamless. She uses all kinds of music, jazz, ragtime. Gospel, African and Blues to further the story, adding life, sensuality, and sometimes threats to advance the show. From Shug Avery’s tight-fitting sexy dances to the men’s predatory moves and poses in “Big Dog,” to Africa’s Olinka tribal dance, Walker-Harris is undistracted The production level has been improved. Thank you for finding the fun moments that make her dancers shine, move and flow on stage as if they barely touched the ground. This is amazing and enjoyable work.
Each piece of the musical blends in with the others, complementing each other rather than being a distraction. Lighting and projection make scene changes flawless and unobtrusive. We moved from church to Mr.’s house to fields in Africa in the blink of an eye. In “Purple,” every technical aspect adds layers of beauty.
The garments, coordinated by Kathleen Payton-Brown, are in keeping with the times. A viewer in front of me commented that “even the shoes are genuine”. Church Ladies; Nyla Watson (Doris), Tarra Conner Jones (Jarene), La’Nette Wallace (Darlene); just show up in their Sunday gowns and you’ll know what they’re about, and in all their glory. Sugar Avery’s explosive color when he arrived was dazzling and immediately caught the eye. Hats off to the team responsible for managing the costumes and hair, fit and wear of the show, often unknown but the icing on the cake.
Joy, love and hope are intertwined in “Purple” – a lifeline that runs through each character in its own way. For anyone attending the takeaway, here’s a passage from Celie’s triumphant ending:
“Most importantly, I am grateful
Love my real me, I am beautiful. Yes, I am beautiful. And here I am. “
Find yourself a mirror now and repeat it to yourself every day.
And get a ticket to “The Color Purple” for an evening that will soothe your weary mind and delight your soul.
Can I find an “Amen”?
The Purple is based on the novel by Alice Walker,
Books by Martha Norman, music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Alice Willis and Stephen Bray
THE COLOR PURPLE will be held July 20-August 6, 2022 at the MSMT Picard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus, 1 Bath Road, Brunswick, Maine www.msmt.org 207-725-8769. Don’t miss it.