The Color Purple, The (Broadway) Musical is Women Empowerment… Who Knew?
I recall watching The Color Purple on TV, over and over as youngster. Regardless of the movie’s unforgettable lines that we still recite today, and nostalgic patty-cake scenes that we still emulate to this day, it was fairly depressing. At least that was my memory of the Academy-nominated film. In fact, my mother is just getting over her strong disdain for actor Danny Glover, who immaculately played an abusive, mean spirited husband.
With that being said, I entered the Adrienne Arsht Theater not knowing what to expect. The state of the art theater was packed to capacity with what appeared to be a very mature and diverse audience. Once the lights dimmed and the musical score began, we were all knee slapping and foot tapping within minutes. The Color Purple, The Musical, gave us jazz, ragtime, blues, and gospel all in one in the opening scene. And true to the magic of theater, I forget about my personal issues and toils of life and slipped Celie’s world.
I hadn’t realized this before but Celie’s world was completely women’s empowerment. The setting was Georgia around the early to mid-1900s. It was Black life in the South post slavery. And the war amongst Blacks seemed to be just as tragic as the war amongst Americans. Celie was in a dreadful situation married to Mister, an abusive man who ran off her sister Oli-via, although he was totally in love with another woman, the infamous Shug Avery. Yet through the backdrop of obvious injustices, silver linings of women helping women shined through.
The Hell No song sang by Sophia was an anthem for wo-men everywhere to not tolerate domestic violence. In the song, Sophia tells Celie to leave Mister or to beat him while she still could. She even adds a classic line from the movie, singing that she would kill her husband, Harpo, dead before she let him beat her before. Then she stood center stage, raising the universal signal for Black power, a balled up fist high in the air, and the theater went wild. Both men and women of all races and nationalities were proud of Sophia. Sophia’s bold declaration of intolerance to abuse was beautiful, relatable and deeply touching.
Although Shug Avery is selfish, promiscuous and impossible to love, it was exciting to get more of her back story in the musical. On Broadway, Shug had the entire town in an uproar anticipating her arrival, not just Mister.
In fact, seeing Shug perform at the juke joint was memorizing. She worked the stage in her jazzy red frill dress, belting out sultry vocals all while delivering tantalizing and gyrating dances moves. Shug’s performance penetrated invisible barriers between the actors and the audience allowing us all to find our inner Shug Avery that night. And even though, Shug Avery was sleeping with Mister, she actually develops a romantic and motherly love for his wife, Celie. And somehow, Shug begins to empower Celie. She tells her she is beautiful, and even finds the letters from Celie’s long lost sister, Oliva, before encouraging Celie to leave town with her.
Empowered, Celie was able to do amazing things. She provided comfort and support to Sophia while she was in jail, started her own business and eventually forgives Mister for his evil ways. The Color Purple, The Musical is the story of beautiful brown bodies dealing with real life issues including domestic violence, blatant infidelity, poverty and racial injustices while using music, feminine energy and love to cope. So when Celie, sings, I’m Here, lyrically proclaiming to be beautiful, she sends chills down our spines. I felt the need to remind myself that no matter what the world throws at me, I am here and I am beautiful. I left the theater unexpectedly empowered. I see why received the Tony award for best musical revival. The Color Purple, The Musical, is a must see.
Please visit, http://www.arshtcenter.org for show times and tickets to upcoming performances.
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