The Color Purple national tour has come to Los Angeles again but this time at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. The cast has seen several major changes, with Fantasia playing the leading character Celie. Celie was played in the movie by Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, who was also in the movie, is now one of the producers of this musicalization of Alice Walker's novel by pop writers Brenda Russell, Alice Willis, and Stephen Bray.
The story is about a young girl, Celie, who goes through a series of horrendous life events only to emerge stronger and wiser by the end of the rather long musical. This is an adult musical that covers marital abuse, children being taken from their mothers, cruel and thoughtless parenting, prostitution, and a same-sex relationship between Celie and a prostitute who teaches her that she is beautiful. It’s a real tearjerker but a love story and a story of the blossoming of a poor downtrodden black girl into pride and womanhood.
The main thing I came away with in the first go-round at the Ahmanson Theatre was the sense of ownership, respect, and devotion of the black audience, all dressed up in their Sunday best. I have felt this only once before, when Zoot Suit spoke to the local Hispanic population. This identification makes for exciting theatre. When you add the dynamic, touching star turn by Fantasia in the title role you have theatre history being made.
Fantasia, you may remember, was the winner in the third season of American Idol. She captured the attention and the heart of the public when they learned of her struggles as a single parent and witnessed her phenomenal presence and singing voice. Once the original and Tony Award-winning actress had left Broadway, someone remembered her story and her dramatic voice and cast her, despite the fact that she had never been in or even seen a Broadway musical.
She blew New York away. Well, now she is blowing away LA and presumably other cities on the tour. No one could forget her after seeing her in The Color Purple. She doesn’t just sing and act the role, she lives it, sheds real tears, and all this with great humility and heart. Brava!
There is another addition to the cast that raises the level of this production, and that is the performance by Angela Robinson, who was the first replacement on Broadway in the role of Shug Avery. She brings a real star presence and sexuality to the role. The result of these two major casting changes was that I was totally absorbed in the action.
Sure, the second act bogs down in the African sequence, but overall the musical was wildly appreciated by the LA audience. Fantasia is only doing the Los Angeles leg of the tour (she is already cast in the movie), so catch this history-making performance at the Pantages Theatre before it disappears.
Fantasia does not perform in the Sunday matinee. The Color Purple will play until February 28th at the Pantages Theatre.