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Theatre Review: The Color Purple

By Peter Mavrik in Arts & Entertainment on May 10, 2007 4:15PM

2007_05_colorpurple2.jpgIt's springtime and Chicago theatre is blooming again like the tulips on Ashland. For the last few years, in part because of Mayor Daley's plans to make downtown Chicago a major player in the theatre scene, many of the biggest and brightest shows leaving the Big Apple have made their way to the Windy City.

The now-sitting Wicked proves the formula can be successful. It outperformed the New York version and is still going strong. The Lion King, also a former Broadway babe, had a big life in Chicago, along with many other shorter runs brought here by Broadway In Chicago.

So it's only natural that the (arguably) most successful Chicagoan ever, Oprah Winfrey, finally gets to see her project Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Color Purple in her own backyard. Remember her as you-told-Harpo-to-hit-me Sofia in the movie?

The Chicago run is led by Broadway cast members Jeanette Bayardelle as Celie and Tony winner Felicia P. Fields as Sofia. Michelle Williams, a Chicago native who you might know from Destiny's Child, joins in the role of Shug Avery. LaToya London (of the "American Idol" season three fame) joins as Nettie. The ensemble members are equally as strong, and while too numerous to name, the lead Church Soloist Bridgette Bentley deserves a mention.

If you haven't read Alice Walker's book, seen the movie, or have been living under a rock forever, The Color Purple follows the life of sisters Celie and Nettie through their journey into adulthood and beyond. Celie (Bayardelle) does a brilliant job of bringing us into her world as she learns about life and love that culminates in a fascinating relationship with Shug Avery (Williams) who is a woman of fairly loose morals. When Shug sings the song "Push The Button," she's talking about exactly what you think she is talking about. And more.

The story isn't new, based on a combination of book and movie. But the visual theatre wizardry, music, and dancing are. A massive creative team led by composers, lyricists, choreographers, costumers, set and lighting designers (with more Tony's and Grammy's among them than we could count) has brought the story to life in a new and fresh way.

2007_05_colorpurple1.jpgGospel, Jazz, Blues, and ballads of all kinds all leap off the stage. And Sofia (Fields) at times brings a much needed comic punch to the stage. Even the lesbian relationship between Celie and Shug is taken to another level, something the movie shied away from. But somehow, the male roles seem a bit diminished compared to all of the strong women, which include a hysterical Greek-chorus inspired trio of Church Ladies that pop into scenes to guide you along the story.

We highly recommend this show, but not because it has Oprah's name attached. Musical theatre is finding a new life in Chicago, and The Color Purple is adding to the vibrancy of the scene and helping us prove that New York isn't the only destination city for theatre.

The Color Purple is playing at The Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph through July 22nd 2007.

Images courtesy of Margie Korshak