port of harlem magazine
woolly mammoth theatre
The Color Purple - Filling Oprah's Shoes
Sep 08 – Sep 21, 2022
I cannot recall the last time I have seen a play where I felt the casting was so perfect and the singing so tight - - and to think I initially ignored Signature Theater’s The Color Purple production until a friend called wanting to see it. Until I got his call, I had very little interest in rehashing the work after reading the book, seeing the movie, and viewing it on Broadway.

In Signature’s production, Nova Y Payton was brilliant as a less attractive Celie. In character, with her persistent tight face and crunched body, Payton had me wondering if she could ever have a lasting show business career even as the girl next door. She contrasted well with the much lighter skinned, thin nosed, straighter haired Danielle J. Summons as the every-one-loves Shug Avery.
American idol standout Frenchie Davis as Sofia (played by Oprah Winfrey in the movie version) wore every single inch of Winfrey’s shoes.
However, with great period clothing and hairstyles accenting the words, one character with locks kept snatching my attention to another time period. Did Hair, Wig & Make-up Design run out of wigs?  

Many others in the ensemble also gave mind lingering performances including former American idol standout Frenchie Davis as Sofia (played by Oprah Winfrey in the movie version). Davis wore every single inch of Winfrey’s shoes.

And, Temidayo Amay, as Squeak, is starting to compete with Marni Penning as being my favorite local actress. Amay stared earlier this year in “Private” at Mosaic Theater. Similar to my experiences with Penning, I admired Amay in another role, then revered her performance in another without knowing it was her until I read the credits.
Generally, experiencing "The Color Purple" again was like watching a Perry Mason rerun. Knowing the big picture took the intrigue out of the viewing and allowed me to digest the story’s details. It also led me to comprehend that the music in the stage and film versions were not the same, as I became disappointed in not seeing Summons, as Shug Avery, sing and twist to “God is Trying to Tell You Something.” Given her other grand performances that night, I am sure it would have been tantalizing hot.

For Gregory Ferguson, who had seen the film, but wanted to see the stage version, the differences in the depictions also “made the play even more alluring to watch and follow.” And, there were other nuances that I had to come to realize, maybe rather late you may say, such as the focus on Celie finding her inner and outer beauty. When I comprehended that Celie had found it and looking her best, I still thought Payton was the beautiful pick for the starring role.

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