“The Color Purple” is in full swing here in Memphis. I attended opening night (Tuesday) at the Orpheum, with the house packed and rightfully so. It is a special story. The book by Alice Walker and the subsequent movie was a game changer – and needful agitator – in about a zillion ways.
For the uninitiated (Gasp! But how? Why?), “The Color Purple” is a tale of the many forms girl power can take – silent, boisterous, passive-aggressive, aggressive, abusive, patient, calculating and sometimes tick tick boom SNAP. It is a set of women’s stories, revolving around the main character Celie, where the common denominator is pain and trauma but most importantly, survival.
As Ms. Celie says triumphantly, “I may be poor. I may be black. I may be ugly. But I’m here!” This is the ultimate declaration of survival. The young actress, Adrianna Hicks, who handled the lead role of Celie did a great job.
The book and movie are so beloved, with characters and dialogue that left an everlasting mark on our memories. Then came the highly celebrated first run (of the musical) on Broadway. Now we get to this second wave, with the touring cast. It was important for them to be solid (they were), as they had huge shoes to fill. The entire Orpheum crowd was standing at the end.
The cast maintained the integrity of all of the properties that came before them. Per my rickety memory of the first two times I caught the play on Broadway, they even kept a few of the standout songs. “Hell No” (Sophia’s expression of her personal brand of girl power – mine too), “Push the Button” (Shug’s form of girl power, harnessing and wielding her sexual energy) and the closing number “The Color Purple,” which always hits me in the feels. They even held true to the Celie-Shug storyline. I won’t spoil it if you somehow aren’t familiar.
A note of interest: In addition to all of the nods and references to Memphis, there is a Memphis connection as well. Because remember, Memphis was the Big City then. One of the supporting cast members, Nikisha Williams, spent some time in our fair city as the choir director at White Station High School.
During her time in Memphis, Nikisha racked up some pretty cool credits – performing in “Don Giovanni” and “Pagliacci” at Opera Memphis as well as “Hairspray” and “Memphis the Musical.” She moved from Memphis to New York City, which landed her on this tour.
In this touring version of “The Color Purple,” Nikisha is what’s called a swing. This means she has to be versatile and prepare as an understudy for seven of the nine female roles. I told her I don’t know if my brain has that much bandwidth! (Check out more of our conversation on TSDMemphis.com and TSD TV.)
Overall it was a good night of entertainment, drawing people of all stripes. Don’t expect it to look and feel like a Tyler Perry production (no shade). This is a story that has found universal appeal, transcending all sorts of color/gender lines and boundaries. And the audience reflects that. It’s only worth a mention because “The Color Purple” walks in rare air, as our stories don’t always have this kind of “post-racial” (‘sarcasm’) effect. There has been a slight shift as of late, but “The Color Purple’s” ability to capture a “wider” audience was a rarity at the time of its debut (as a movie).
I do recommend including it in your weekend plans, even if you’ve seen it before. Make it a whole extra black, unapologetically black, weekend. We know you have your outfits ready – get your “Black Panther”/ Wakanda fashions together then shake out a good frock or a good suit and get thee to the Orpheum.
“The Color Purple” runs through Feb. 18. Tickets are available online at www.orpheum-memphis.com.