Cardiff, Wales, UK – I remember reading Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple for a school assignment a few years ago, and it stood out to me as a striking story.
A story that tackles themes of abuse, racism and sexism, it was sometimes a difficult read, but one that I felt was so important to understanding how difficult life was for young women in a racially divided southern America in the last century.
So I was excited and intrigued to see how the critically acclaimed Made at Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome would bring this moving story to life on stage.
The story follows the courageous heroine Celie (Me’sha Bryan) who journeys through feelings of despair and anger as she tries to find her voice in a tough world. Along the way, she strikes up a friendship with the brave and bold Sofia, finds herself caught up in a fiery love affair with the glamorous singer Shug (Bree Smith) and starts to believe that there is more to her life than being oppressed and feeling depressed.
The touching performance about the intersectionality of female empowerment, faith, family and love is infused with joyous jazz and gospel music throughout.
The choice of music and songs told the story beautifully, but “Somebody Gonna Love You” – performed by Celie at the beginning of the musical with her sister Nettie (Deearna McLean) and a group of women churchgoers – stuck out to me the most. It effortlessly set the scene for a tale of female empowerment and there was something incredibly moving with how they directed the scene to have it focused solely on the women.
Shug’s “Too beautiful for words” towards the end of Act 1 provided another moving moment in the musical. The lyrics and her incredible vocals spoke to so many young women in the audience.
What I enjoyed most about the musical was the fact that despite it being set in a world different to the one we live in now, it still spoke to so many young and Black women and relayed messages of self-love, hope and empowerment.
Each one of the cast played their role amazingly with astounding vocals, but Bryan and McLean truly captured the essence of sisterhood in their performances of Celie and Nettie. Their relationship is integral to the plot, and seeing it come to life on stage was magical.
The emotions were clear to see throughout, with the audience picking up on them so that we all felt included and part of the story.
The show handled the difficult themes of racism, sexism and abuse compassionately but the subtle humor that ran throughout the performance was testament to the incredible work of writers Allee Willis, Brenda Russell, Marsha Norman and Stephen Bray.
It allowed for the musical to evoke a mixture of feelings from sympathy to joy to sadness to hope.
The Color Purple, on stage at the Wales Millennium Centre until October 22, is a beautifully produced musical. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for something inspiring and uplifting.
Holly Hostettler-Davies is a Senior Correspondent with Youth Journalism International.
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