If there were ever a theatrical example of ‘simple yet effective’, it would be this production. The hardest thing for me as a theatre director is to go to the theatre and have my disbelief suspended to the extent that I don’t notice the lighting, the staging, the acting, the technical stuff. It didn’t happen with The Color Purple, now nearing the end of it’s Tony-award winning revival run on Broadway. But what did happen, which on reflection is a far greater feat, is that because of the simple nature of the staging, and the supreme talent of the cast, I was totally transported, breath by breath, note by note, on both an emotional, and dare I say, spiritual journey.
The book and the film are indelibly marked on the western world. The reunion between Celie and Nettie at the end of the movie, where Celie meets her two children for the first time since their births, has me weeping uncontrollably every time. But this isn't the movie, and is much closer to Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Not that Celie meeting her kids doesn't happen, but the musical has different resonances. It is utterly Celie's journey and I was particularly struck by her pivotal relationship with her God. Feeling abandoned and helpless across the years, it isn't until the sexual tenderness she receives in the unlikely friendship with Shug Avery, that she begins to see her own beauty, and her own power. But as Shug can't give her what she needs, an unconditional love, The Color Purple then becomes a metaphor for discovering the truth and beauty of oneself deep down on the inside. That's the journey I want to see.
I couldn't help but be touched by the whole experience: the pain, the growth, the redemption, the change. Above all, I was so glad that I couldn't be deceived by the show's humility, because it allowed me to participate to a much greater degree in the journey I mention, a journey whose restraint held an immense wealth of power. So thank you, thank you all: cast, creative team and crew, for an unforgettable and life-affirming theatrical experience.