The Broadway-staged The Color Purple musical had its opening performance with an all South African cast at the Joburg Theatre on Sunday and The Daily Vox team was there. Featuring a star cast of Aubrey Poo, Didintle Khunou and Neo Motaung, the musical is an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alice Walker of the same name.
The performance of the musical was a fantastic experience of song, dance and acting. The musical arrangements were flawless as well as the sets. The cast of the show were marvellously able to play out the various emotions of the characters while at the same time managing to bring out something different from the well-known characters. The Color Purple tells the story of Celie, a young black girl living in Georgia who goes through many trials and tribulations throughout her life, yet seemingly never losing her faith and hope.
All of the actors were amazing in their respective performances but there were three characters in particular who managed to really bring the show alive and it was the characters of Celie, Sofia and Shug Avery. The three women play vastly different characters but manage to encapsulate so much of the experience of women in the play.
Celie as the protagonist undergoes the biggest character arc. She goes from a helpless girl who is raped by her father figure and has her children taken away from to a woman who is forcibly married to a horrible man, Master Albert who treats her like dirt to a liberated woman who runs her own life and business. While at the beginning Celie comes across as someone to be pitied, her character development is a real inspiration. She is also the bravest and most enduring character even though these traits are sometimes underrated. She takes the place of her sister to get married to Master, so that her sister can live her dreams, even knowing what type life laid ahead of her.
There are times during the play when her hope and faith falters and yet she always perseveres and manages to flourish by the end. One of the best songs of the musical had to be Miss Celie’s Pants where the entire female cast come together to sing about Celie’s new business of making pants and she says: “But look I said look. Are you lookin’. Look who’s wearing the pants now.” It is at that moment in the play when we see that Celie has broken free from patriarchal society and the societal norms placed on women and liberated herself. It was a definite yaas moment and everyone in the audience seemed to agree.
The second significant character is Sofia who is honestly the person I think women can all aspire to be. She is strong, opinionated and does not suffer fools. Married to Celie’s stepson, Sofia shakes up things from the moment she steps on to the stage. She is a character foil to Cecile in some ways. While Celie does not fight back against the abuse she receives against the man in her life, Sofia not only stands up for herself but she also fights back. When her husband Harpo hits her, she packs up her and her children and goes away. Even when she returns, she does it on her own terms. Her song “Hell No” documents her journey to being the person she is who does not take any nonsense from anyone: “You got to say, You got to say, You better say, You oughta say, hell no!” She tells Celie to stand up and leave her husband, saying that any man who hurts you is not worth anything. Played by Neo Motaung, Sofia was definitely a crowd favourite and it was easy to see why.
And that brings us to the last important character: Shug Avery played by Lerato Mvelase. She is the one who first mentions the title of the musical: The Color Purple on stage and was perhaps the most surprising character. She is mentioned by many of the characters before she even steps onto the stage. A performer, Shug is loved by all the men and hated by all the women. Celie’s husband is in love with Shug and brings her to stay with them. And what develops from there was the most surprising. Celie falls in love with Shug who teaches her that there is more to life than just being tied down in a loveless and abusive marriage. Shug always shows Celie her own beauty and her own worth. It is when Celie is at her lowest that Shug sings The Color Purple telling her “God is inside you and everyone else… But only them who look inside find Him.” It is Shug who teaches Celie to enjoy and love life.
The musical tackles very important issues like racism, sexism, rape, sexual assault, patriarchy and faith (or loss of it) through the musical and dance number and yet manages to never play those down.
The show will be on until the 4th of March at the Joburg Theatre. Tickets and more information on the show are available here.
Images via @enroCpics