Theater Review: The Color Purple

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October 25 – Nov. 4
Circle Players and the Tennessee State University Theater Program Present:
The Color Purple (Ages 13 and older)
TSU’s Cox-Lewis Theater
3500 John Merritt Blvd., Nashville
332-7529 • circleplayers.net
Show times: Thu – Sat 7:30 p.m., Sun 2 p.m.
Tickets: $18 adults, $15 students

Although it is not our normal procedure to review community theater, every once in a while something special occurs where a show, the actors, a new venue, staging and direction all come together in just the right moment to produce a wonderful theatrical experience. I am so pleased to say that The Color Purple, produced by Circle Players in collaboration with the Tennessee State University (TSU) Theater department for the first time in their long history in our community, is one event I hope will reach far beyond the campus borders.

Upon arriving at the campus entrance gate, I was greeted by a friendly person who excitedly told me where to go to find the Cox-Lewis Theater (precise directions are on Circle’s website, and there is plenty of secure parking).  The sophoisticated, state of the art performing arts center showed well as the lights dimmed.

Most people are familiar with the story. You may remember seeing the movie and Oprah Winfrey’s Academy Award-winning performance. Or perhaps you may have read the book or even seen the show on Broadway. We know the story, but I was wondering who would fill those Broadway shoes and make this classic African-American story and musical come to life.

As the gospel-inspired opening song goes, God moves in mysterious ways, and in this production of professional actors, mixed with community theater actors, TSU students, and local children, it jump starts Act 1 with a show stopper. The Color Purple continues to serve up a gem of terrific performances. The music, under the direction of Eddie Charlton, is on tune and on the beat of this dynamic and moving score. The choreography by TSU’s own Peter Fields proves that this collaboration with Circle Players works.

I will point out this show has mature themes, including rape, incest, adultery, sexuality and violence, so I would suggest you use caution on bringing a child to see this show.  Although it really is not a show for young children, I commend the ability of co-directors Clay Hillwig and Tim Larsen which allowed for the mature material to be representative and not offensive.  The production values are overall much higher than typical local community theater.  Most importantly, everyone associated with this production works to preserve the original  story and vision of the book and play.

Across the entire cast there are notable performances, however my first congratulations goes to TSU graduate and local performer Latoya Gardner, who in the lead role of Celie,  shows such maturity and sensitivity in her interpretation of this central role. You cannot then miss the fact that she is surrounded by an entire ensemble of actors who perform to their best abilities. To cap off the talent pool on display, in the supporting role of Shug, is veteran stage and TV actress J Karen Thomas who provides a professional polish to this already outstanding cast. My only criticism is that the portable mics worn by the actors struggled to stay on and even had noisy feedback at times. The actors,   however, did  their very best job of singing with or without the amplification above the band and orchestra. This issue did threaten the quality of the performances at times and should be addressed.

So, be a witness to the astonishing cast who has come together to do something extraordinary in this production. This heartfelt, gospel-inspired musical will move you to tears of joy and laughter.

Can I get an Amen? Can I get a witness?? You bet! Follow me to The Color Purple!

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