Good music can leave you speechless. The talented actors and performers on stage at the Des Moines Civic Center Tuesday for “The Color Purple” had several moments where I was at a loss for words. The music from the cast and the orchestra was phenomenal.
The story itself was one of hardship, to say the least. It was honestly hard to watch at times. So many things happen that just makes you wish the characters can find their salvation. However, the uplifting moments makes the struggles almost worth it.
“The Color Purple” musical is based on the 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker. An Academy Award-nominated film of the same name was released in 1985. The story was adapted for the stage in 2005 and earned an impressive 11 Tony Award nominations. This award list alone is enough to make someone sit up and take notice.
Set primarily in Georgia from 1909 to 1949, the story centers around an African-American woman, Celie (Adrianna Hicks). She sees herself as “ugly” and only good for the work she can provide. She believes this because it is the message she has received her whole life. By age 14, she has two children, who were taken from her by her father would immediately following birth. Her one light in her life is her younger sister, Nettie. Nettie is the “pretty one” and is going to school to be a teacher.
Celie’s father basically sells her into marriage to a man named Albert aka “Mister” (Gavin Gregory) who wants to marry Nettie instead, but their father says no. Celie goes from an oppressive father to an oppressive husband. She loses touch with her sister and believes she is dead. Celie is merely surviving at this point, and she is just barely in her 20s.
The show features two strong, independent women whom Celie looks up to. Sofia (Carrie Compere) is married to Mister’s son, Harpo. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind and refuses to be beaten. When Harpo tries to beat her like his father beats his wife, she says “Hell, no!” and walks away.
The second independent woman is Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart). Mister is in love with her, but she refused to marry him and left for Memphis. When she returns to town, Shug stays with Celie and Mister. Celie takes care of Shug, and the two unexpectedly find love together. Shug is the first person to call Celie beautiful, even though Celie doesn’t believe her. They save each other in their own way, although the journey isn’t an easy one.
After the first act, I sat in my seat and wondered if Celie would ever get the courage to stand up to Mister and let herself believe she too is beautiful and worthy of love. I have neither read the book nor seen the movie. I think because of this, it increased my experience at the theater.
I was taking in the moments on stage, without knowledge of what could be next. While Celie lacked the outward strength of Sofia and Shug, Celie had her own version of strength. She never let her situation overtake her, and she came out on the other side. When she finally has her “moment of truth” I’ll call it, it made me want to jump from my seat and cheer. Finally, Celie had her chance.
She went from surviving to living. Celie breaks free of her imaginary bonds and gets to enjoy God’s creation for the first time. She has her “color purple” moment, and it was beautiful.
The three women in the story were only as compelling as the women who played them. Adrianna Hicks as Celie was captivating, Carrie Compere as Sofia was bold and Carla R. Stewart as Shug was mesmerizing. They embodied the souls of these women and brought them to life. They gave performances I’ll not soon forget.
“The Color Purple” is at the Civic Center through Sunday.
Contact Pam Rodgers