Every now and then, a series of dramatic moving parts come together to create a theatrical event that is unique, remarkable and exceeds all expectations. I am thrilled to tell you that such a lineup of cultural and artistic circumstances did come together on Hilton Head last Friday night at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, when the cast of “The Color Purple” filled the stage of the Elizabeth Wallace Theater.
The award-winning musical, based upon the 1982 book by Alice Walker and the 1985 Stephen Spielberg Oscar-nominated film, the Broadway Show of 2005, and finally on the Broadway Musical Revival of 2013, is over the top. It will, by turns, charm, delight, sadden, distract, thrill and amaze.
There are a number of reasons why the production works so well.
First, Charnette Batey, an absolute powerhouse, actually seems to inhabit the role.
She is joined by two other incredible leading ladies — Anita Welch, as the slinky, sexy songstress, Shug, and Nakia Peterkin as the formidable, funny, and feisty Sofia. These three become the moreso when they are dramatically positioned and balanced against each other and opposite the two male leads, Warren Nolan Jr. as the brutish, then acquiescing Mister, and Alex Grayson as the peripatetic, nice guy, Harpo.
You will be impressively engaged by Briana Brooks, as Nettie, Katelyn Bowman as the incredible Squeak, Brittani-Nicole Gordon as Olivia and the church ladies, Brittani Nicole Okundaye, Morgan Anita Wood, and Housso Semon.
The ensemble players include Jordan J. Adams as Pa, Buster and Bobby; Corey Moore as Preacher and Adam; Richard E. Waits as Ol’ Mister; and Mijon Zulu as Guard and Grady.
The production is enhanced by the direction of Evan Pappas, the musical direction of Michael Bagby, and the choreography of Todd Underwood.
The winning story is set just after the turn of the century in rural Georgia. The script traces, focuses and offers close-up glances at the lives of this disparate group of African-Americans, the women most especially, as we anticipate, then witness their transformation from unbelievably cruel beginnings to a triumphant turnaround.
The script deals with several serious themes — gender bias, racism, sexuality, cultural barriers, class and wealth. Eventually, and happily, we see these women rise up and present themselves.
The audience is surrounded with a wonderful of blend of roof-raising gospel, finger-snapping jazz, handkerchief-wringing blues and Broadway-musical-type music. Celie and Shug’s “What About Love,” which finishes act one, is simply lovely.
When Act 2 opens, there is a brighter look. The capper for the transformation I mentioned is offered in the jubilant “Miss Celie’s Pants,” performed by Celie, Shug, Sofia and the female ensemble. Celie’s and Shug’s reprise of “What About Love” puts everything in order and prepares us for Celie’s exultant “I’m Here,” and we know she is.
Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard focuses on portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles and, for close to 30 years, in the Lowcountry. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go:
- What: “The Color Purple”
- When: Through Oct. 22
- Where: Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, 14Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island
- For more information: Call 843-842-2787 or visit www.artshhi.com