Cynthia Erivo as Celie in the Broadway revival

I never finished reading Alice Walker’s powerful 1982 novel The Color Purple, though I had read good chunks of it.

The movie came out in late 1985, so I would have seen it in the first three months of the following year. I thought it was strong, powerful, and occasionally difficult to watch. Danny Glover played Mister/Albert, who was a brute. Whoopi Goldberg as Celie Johnson, Margaret Avery and Shug Avery, and, surprisingly, Oprah Winfrey as Sofia were quite good, as was the rest of the cast.

The film garnered 11 Academy Award nominations, including for those three women, winning zero, making it the film with the most noms with no Oscars. Goldberg and director Steven Spielberg did win the Golden Globes, and the film was named best drama.

Then there was the first Broadway production which ran from December 2005 to the end of February 2008, nominated for 11 Tonys, and winning one, LaChanze as Celie. Renée Elise Goldsberry, later of Hamilton fame, played Celie’s sister Nettie. The touring company production ended a couple years later.

The musical was revived at the end of 2015 and closed early in 2017. It was nominated for four Tonys, and won Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, Cynthia Erivo as Celie.

The touring show started on October 17, 2017 in Baltimore. But wait. What did I see on October 8 at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, featuring “director John Doyle’s deceptively simple set design, a towering array of angled, broken barn boards and mismatched wooden chairs that rise up from the stage to the overhead fly-space”?

Technically, it was a preview show, working out the bugs in the story and technical problems. I’m told the cast in the earlier production was quite large, but only 17 in this iteration. The story is strong, especially in the first half. The songs are very inspirational, especially in the second half, and performed well throughout.

A couple actors weren’t miked well, and I couldn’t really make out what they were saying.

A bigger problem for me, though, was the transformation of Mister/Albert from Act 1’s bully to Act 2’s saint. It didn’t feel earned, and as my wife noted, when a child is left in hs care, she worried about the baby’s welfare, unnecessarily so, as it turns out.

I’m sure that the technical issues will be fixed. Whether the storyline will be, I don’t know. Still, even with that caveat, it was well worth seeing.

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