The Color Purple

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Though it has all the glitter and sunny colors of Disney, Blitz Bazawule’s musical “The Color Purple,” adapted from the original material by Alice Walker, does not shed its harsh emotional history from the novel or the 1985 Steven Spielberg film. This new version is vivid, explosive, heart-rending, percussive, and emotional. Bursting with color and joy in some scenes, while blighting with palpable sinister dread in others, the film is a medley of emotion, a masterful rendering of its kind.

There is not a dull or middling instant in the entirety of two hours and 21 minutes.

Celie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi) lives with her sister Nettie (Hailee Bailey). They are joyous with themselves, despite having an angry abusive father (Deon Cole). Mister (Colman Domingo) enters strumming a blues guitar and tells the head of the house that he wants to marry Nettie. The father refuses and tells Celie to live with Mister, a deeply menacing and violent man.

Nettie moves in with Celie as they love one another but after a horrid attack by Mister upon Nettie with a rifle, Nettie runs for her life.

Mister rules by violence and intimidation and Colman Domingo illustrates this character excellently, by his shading charm and his amiable veneer. The only light in Celie’s domestic darkness is the femme fatale Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson) a loose woman who is friends with everyone and lives moment by moment. Celie begins to be physically enamored with the mercurial Shug.

There is also the independent Sophie (Danielle Brooks) who is married to Mister’s son (Corey Hawkins). The son is seemingly mild mannered but reveals himself to be a wolf in sheep clothing, so to speak.

The dialogue is pitch perfect with every character, but Sophie has some of the best lines. Her struggle to stand for herself and to be combative when necessary is legendary and iconic, speaking of the cinema heroes of the past.

This film handles the seemingly impossible by more than equaling the original 1981 film. Rather than upstaging its Spielberg material, it strikingly adds to it, in compliment and tribute.

Whoopi Goldberg is here too in a fine cameo as a genial midwife.

The colors and cinematography by Dan Laustsen are eye-popping and dessert-like, equal to the original West Side Story directed by Robert Wise.

The dancing alone is spellbinding and would make Gene Kelly and Michael Jackson blush with disbelief with all in motion as fluidly smooth as in Nature.

While the musical numbers are highly charged and rollicking, they are never manipulative or inauthentic. Each aspect of the film—the drama and the music—remains both glamorous with Pop and yet organic. Rare it is that both are handled so well and gracefully.
This film covers all the bases and gives you a rollicking ride. Here is prismatic pleasure and dramatic pain. Both principles create a propulsive and riveting story of three women who deserve respect and independence from angry controlling men.

While one definitely needs to bring Kleenex, one would also do well with some steady cinema dancing shoes, because the lasting emotion that carries you away is one of delight.

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