The Color Purple is as relevant as it has ever been, and this story of love, hope, and overcoming trauma is food for the soul. Made at Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome’s production is something truly special, with a phenomenally talented cast that will have audiences spellbound from the first number. 

Credit: Manuel Harlan

The Color Purple began its life as a Pulitzer prize-winning novel published in 1982 by African-American author Alice Walker. It was subsequently turned into a successful film starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in 1985, and the musical adaptation eventually followed in 2005. This version of the show co-produced by Birmingham Hippodrome and Leicester Curve first took to the stage in 2019 to critical acclaim and was then reproduced as a digital streaming musical during lockdown in 2021. But a show like this belongs on a stage, and its return to the Hippodrome is jubilant as The Color Purple begins its first UK Tour. 

It is worth noting that this show comes with a number of triggers warnings; themes of rape, abuse, incest, overt racism and sexism. Forewarned is forearmed, but don’t be put off. The handling of said themes is sensitive; with most of these harrowing experiences mentioned almost in passing rather than occurring on the stage and the resulting trauma being the focus rather than the acts themselves. In fact, the way these things are so “normalised” in the world of our protagonist Celie that they can be mentioned almost nonchalantly is perhaps the most troubling thing about it.  

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Celie, played by Me’Sha Bryan, begins the show as a pregnant preteen in 1913 and the story follows her difficult life to 1945. Bryan’s characterisation is endearing and compelling throughout Act One as she turns from young girl to young woman and her eyes are opened to the vastly different lives of others around her. Her meek, passive character is shown in great contrast to no-nonsense Sofia (Anelisa Lamola), free-spirited Shug (Bree Smith) and feisty Squeak (Jimand Allotey) and it is through these women that she finds her voice, her power, and her independence. Towards the end of Act Two Bryan shows off her incredible vocal ability and stage presence performing ‘I’m Here’ – which is awe-inspiring and may just bring you to tears.  

There are so many wonderful musical numbers that span jazz, ragtime, gospel, African music and blues, but stand-outs include Sofia’s powerhouse anthem ‘Hell No’, and Mister’s (Ako Mitchell) ‘Nightmare’ that is almost more soliloquy than song. The trio of Jarene, Doris, and Darlene (Esme Laudat, Karen Mavundukure, Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah) bring so much joy each time they bless the stage with their Greek-chorus style numbers; their harmonies and riffs are stunning and as a trio they are real show-stealers! 

The design of the production by Alex Lowde is elegant and stripped-back, with a pair of house cut-outs in the wood-panel backdrop that slide in and out to create rooms. Joshua Pharo’s video projections are incredibly effective and create some beautiful effects when they wash over the performers on stage. Costuming is simple and evocative of the various periods without being rigid. The opening of Act Two sees most of the cast portray an African tribe in beautiful blue wax-print fabrics which contrasts effectively with the earthy tones seen throughout the rest of the show. The simplicity in design throughout ensures focus is on the characters and their story without fuss or distraction. 

Credit: Manuel Harlan

This is a show that will strike a chord with so many, and have audiences cheering, laughing, and crying along; that is when they aren’t simply left awestruck by the incredible vocal performances from the entire cast. If you want a show that gives you goosebumps on your goosebumps, then this is it! 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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