Review: The Colour Purple

It’s the hottest ticket in town. If you only catch one show this year, make it The Color Purple, which opened recently at The Joburg Theatre and had the audience on their feet.

A musical, The Color Purple is a beautiful, emotional and a sometimes hard-hitting look at the plight of African American women and their place in society.

Set in Georgia in the 1930s, the story reveals the complex relationships between women, their partners, and the true loves in their lives, often other women and close family members.

It was originally written as a series of letters by the author Alice Walker, winning her the 1983 Pulitzer Prize. Steven Spielberg directed the 1985 movie, giving Oprah Winfrey, as Sophie, and Whoopi Goldberg, in the lead role of Celie, both their big screen debuts.

The Color Purple musical first opening in Atlanta Georgia in 2004, and moved to Broadway in 2005. It had the backing of Winfrey and Quincy Jones and music written by Brenda Russel (Piano in the Dark). The show had all the credentials to be a huge hit, and it was, running for almost three years on Broadway before touring the US.

It’s a story that will not age and sadly could so easily be translated into any time zone and place. Here in South Africa we see the inherent and systematic abuse of women on a daily basis. And let’s not forget the terrible crimes against the women that stand proud and out as lesbians.

While it deals with serious subjects, The Color Purple is still a musical and it ticks all the right boxes to be a great one. Legendary South African director Janice Honeyman and producer Bernard Jay have put together one of the strongest casts I have ever seen on the South African stage.

Having an excellent cast as a foundation allows the director to build a show that will touch our hearts and draw us into the story that’s unraveling on stage. And when it comes to this production, I honestly cannot pick one single weak performer.

Didintle Khunou plays Celie and, wow, she was consistently amazing, with a voice that rings through every bone in your body. She sang with such emotion on the opening night that she received a standing ovation way before the finale.

Other outstanding members of the cast include Aubrey Poo, as the vicious Mister. Sofia, played by the mesmerizing Neo Motaung, took the audience through a journey of emotions, at times making everyone laugh out loud with her clever one-liners and physical humour.

Lelo Ramasimong, Dolly Louw and Ayanda Sinisi drove the narration with voices from the gods, singing in harmony and playing off each other with superb comic timing.

If you’re concerned that this is a depressing show, don’t be! The Colour Purple is full of positive messages and affirms that we can all change for the better. It’s a powerful and uplifting piece of theatre that must be seen.

The Color Purple is on at the Joburg Theatre until the 8th of March. Click to book here.

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  1. Vicky Rawlins
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