By Jacqueline McGarry
As a musical, “The Color Purple” intends to make itself known.
The Tony-winning 2016 Broadway revival has big shoes to fill. From its origin as Alice Walker’s 1982 epic novel that won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award novel to the Oscar-nominated 1985 Steven Spielberg film starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, to its first Broadway run in 2005, “The Color Purple” has become a powerful statement against bigotry and celebrating female empowerment.
At this point, so much is expected that any cast member of the national tour needs to bring everything they have to the Fox stage. And they do, plus more. And more. And more.
The ensemble is a finely-tuned machine. From the first light up to the last light down, this raw story of southern African-American women and the men who controlled them grabs us by the throat.
Playwright Marsha Norman earned a Tony nomination for her stage adaptation, starting in 1930s Georgia and moving through four decades of hardships, pain and sorrow. With issues so dark, its musical success might surprise. What makes a show dealing with rape and race connect with us in song?
Besides powerhouse singers, the fierce portrayals stand out. The main characters of Celie (Adrianna Hicks), Sofia (Carrie Compere) and Shug (Carla R, Stewart), all members of the Broadway revival cast, carry this show on their shoulders with grit and grace.
Adrianna Hicks is unforgettable as Celie. As we follow many years of a life barely being lived, a phoenix rises from the ashes. Beaten and sexually abused by her husband, Mister, she spends much time hiding meekly in the background.
The minimalist set includes wooden chairs that Celie scrubs and arranges. She rarely sits, but Mister and the many people socializing in and out of the house are happy she waits on them hand and foot.
Hicks’ ability to restrain her breathtaking vocal ability and stage presence — at least until Celie finally comes into her own — is impressive, and she remains graceful throughout in a thought-provoking role.
Carrie Compere nearly steals the show as Sofia. It is impossible not to cheer her on as she schools everyone on her defiance against the world.
She is a mountain of strength, and her role is relevant to events of today, even for a show that’s admittedly dated. Compere’s inspiring performances may add more numbers to the modern feminist movement.
As nightclub singer Shug Avery, Carla R. Stewart sizzles in the production’s lively entertaining numbers. She captivates from her first step, and she complements Hicks.
Gavin Gregory is flawless as Mister, a complex character who exemplifies the low points a man can reach. Can he redeem himself?
Dynamic musical numbers like “Hell No!” and “I’m Here” turn their struggles into triumph.
Of all the takeaways, this musical stands out most for its showcase of strength and the resilience and redemption of its remarkable three lead characters.
“The Color Purple” runs nightly through April 1 at The Fabulous Fox, showtimes are at 7:30 p.m., with a 1 p.m. show on Thursday, March 29, and at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 31. An Easter Sunday matinee is at 1 p.m. Tickets available through metrotix.com. For more information, visit www.thefabulousfox.com