There are times in theater when the sets are marvelous and constantly changing, bringing the entire stage to life.
Then there are instances where the scenery is virtually nonexistent, with nothing in the background ever shifting in the slightest.
The latter happens to be the case with "The Color Purple," at the Fisher Theatre through Sunday. The weight of the performances, the raw power of the voices emanating from the stage, render all other glitzier aspects of live entertainment moot and forgotten.
A show like "The Color Purple" has an ensemble cast, but it relies heavily on the strength of its lead, Adrianna Hicks, as Celie.
Throughout most of the show, Celie is front and center, either commanding the stage with a solo or trying to combat the evil nature of her abusive husband, Mister.
Hicks is dynamic. The many trials and tribulations of Celie's character, not to mention the lofty vocal demands in the part, could be tricky for a less accomplished player to balance. Hicks flies through the 2 1/2-hour show with nary a flaw, and she received a lengthy final standing ovation.
A highlight of the first act is the pulse-pounding number "Big Dog." All men of the cast share the spotlight, rhythmically thumping wooden chairs on the stage to match the beat. Gavin Gregory, as Mister, leads the way, showing that he’s got the big voice to match his character’s outsized ego.
Carla R. Stewart (Shug Avery) and Carrie Compere (Sofia) bring some much-needed levity to the proceedings. The show’s subject matter, dealing with issues like domestic violence and devaluation of women, can often be bleak and unforgiving. The glamour of Shug and the comedic timing of Sofia ensure that the evening does not result in 150 minutes of pure sobs and anger.
This theatrical adaptation was brought to life on Broadway in 2005 and played through 2008. Then it was jump-started again a few years ago and captured the 2016 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival.
Fans of literature and/or cinema will likely already be familiar with plot details of The Color Purple. It was a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Alice Walker in 1982 and an Oscar-nominated 1985 film from Steven Spielberg. Having read or watched either will not deter in the slightest from this live musical version.
It can be a difficult show to watch, taking an unflinching look at life in the south during the first half of the 20th century. At the same time, it is an inspiring story of toughness and perseverance.
The voices of black women were silenced often during that period, but on this night, in "The Color Purple," those voices rang loud and proud to all corners of the Fisher Theatre.
The musical finishes its six-day run with matinee and evening performances Saturday and Sunday.
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