The Color Purple The Musical Review | The Lowry | Manchester
It is easy to lose yourself in Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning novel as she masterfully injects colour, humour and connection into see Celie’s lifeless world.
The Lowry Theatre’s towering, wooden cladded set is illuminated by Tinuke Craig’s direction, that smothers Celie in projected images, but also spotlights the farmhouse she grew up on, the farm her husband moved her onto and the barns that surround her. The rural and domestic landscape that Walker places her uneducated, 14-year-old, pregnant black lead as our relatable but unlikely heroine is a desolate and bleak environment. However, Craig’s adaptation is able to transform Celie’s constrained space as her story develops over the decades.
Craig has converted Walker’s work into a captivating musical production that lays Celie’s (Me’sha Bryan) tale of faith, isolation and self-worth out onto the Lowry stage. Centred around Celie and her narrated letters to God, The Color Purple follows the stories of three black women during the early 1900’s. After her mother dies, Celie is left in the care of her abusive father Alfonso (Km Drew Boateng), who after impregnating Celie twice, removes her children to God knows where. Additionally, Alfonso encourages widower Mister (Ako Mitchell) into a marriage of convenience, encouraging him to wed Celie in order to care for his four children and farm. Whilst initially pleased to be out of the father’s grip, Celie soon finds she is in the hands of another abuser with a mistress on the side. However, Celie is not left to build on her traumatic life alone, finding solace with the help of two strong, opinionated and resourceful women who help her discover her inner strength.
The Color Purple is an unflinching story, as Walker’s narrative hits all the isms from every side. As Celie’s journey unravels layers of perpetual poverty, racism, sexism and domestic violence, audiences will appreciate its openness and the overall message of community and confronting trauma whilst navigating a twisted reality. Walkers unique voice resonates through Craig’s gloriously crafted musical reincarnation, which holds on to both the pain and joy that the novel offers. Bryan’s soulful vocals build and propel Celie’s voice with the songs Dear God - Shug and I’m Here, which offer performances as honest and introspective as a diary entry. While scenes are propelled forward by a trio of gossiping church ladies who harmonise and summarise how they feel about a character. It is a huge undertaking to morph Walker’s words into a musical, but the writers here are wise enough to lift direct lines from the novel into the song lyrics.
This adaption doesn’t shy away from Celie’s love of black women, with a considerate portrayal of Celie’s relationship to the enigmatically portrayed Shug (Bree Smith). The show presents, not only a portrayal of true sisterhood, but also a view into their sexual relationship that isn’t watered down in the same way as its Steven Spielberg film (1985) adaptation. However, it is still light enough on the topic for family friendly audiences.
While The Color Purple opened on Broadway in 2005, it’s Tony award-winning adaptation continues to embrace a black sisterhood rarely seen on screen or stage. Craig’s compelling production showcases the heart-warming connections between these women, who bring the colour and boldness of its narrative with glorious performances. Alongside its gospel soundtrack, The Color Purple Musical remains freeing, moving and rooted in Walker’s remarkable storytelling.
Tickets are available via the Lowry link