The Color Purple in Concert
21 May 2017
With the vast majority of London’s theatres taking Sunday as a day of rest, there is no better time to assemble some of the West End’s finest singers. In this gala performance of The Color Purple, performer credits range from Aladdin to Miss Saigon and The Book of Mormon, showcasing a selection of the best voices in the industry.
The concert format will always have its limitations. In this case, there were a few awkward scene transitions and clunky blocking choices. The sound levels were not perfect, with the band occasionally drowning out the singers and the ensemble overpowering solos. Some of the dialogue was also difficult to understand as it suffered from the acoustics.
But the truth is, you don’t really see The Color Purple for the dialogue. Brenda Russell, Allee Williams and Stephen Bray’s score, which takes it influences from gospel, jazz, ragtime and more is stunningly affecting, with never a dull moment. Highlights cannot be listed without mentioning practically every musical number, all confidently conducted by James Taylor and his eight-piece band, who musically never put a foot wrong across the evening.
Taking the lead of Celie is current Dreamgirls alternate Marisha Wallace, a performer who truly was born to sing. From full, soaring belt to quieter, tender moments, Wallace can do it all. Her roof-raising rendition of I’m Here brings the entire house to its feet as the pinnacle of a winning performance. The moment Celie is able to break away from her abusive husband is met with huge applause, as Wallace has made us root for her from the word go.
Upcoming Hamilton star Rachel John oozes allure as Shug Avery, whilst also fully capturing the lingering fear of a woman aware that her main trade is in looks. Her solo in Too Beautiful For Words leaves the audience spellbound. Jesus Christ Superstar’s Tyrone Huntley again proves himself as a natural showman and terrific performer as Harpo. Along with the hilarious Wendy Mae Brown as wife Sofia, who with a knowing look alone has the audience in the palm of her hand, the pair injects some perfectly pitched humour into the show.
A strong and lively ensemble lined up along the back of the stage throw boundless energy into the mix, free to dance, pose and strut as the numbers require. The men get the chance to come downstage to back up Harpo for the rollicking Brown Betty, and act two provides an opportunity for the ladies to take the spotlight with bags of attitude and style for In Miss Celie’s Pants. The evening really comes alive as the audience gets a glimpse of how sensational a fully staged transfer could be. Elsewhere Bernadette Bangura, Rochelle Jackman and Krishana Parker often steal the scene as a trio of gossiping church ladies with strong, masterful vocals from all three.
An incredible showcase of talent, The Color Purple is impossible to walk away from without feeling deeply moved. In the wake of her mid-act standing ovation, Marisha Wallace briefly breaks the fourth wall to look out, as Celie, at her audience “Look at all these people…” she muses happily “Look at this day.” Look at this day indeed. And what a day to witness.