Johannesburg - The Colour Purple, Alice Walker’s seminal 1982 novel, became an award-winning Steven Spielberg film in 1985 and then a stage musical in 2004. Now it’s on in Joburg, and what a multilayered, glorious musical it is to behold.
The gospel-flavoured production opened at The Joburg Theatre a week ago, to constant applause and ripples of laughter and emotion from the audience throughout. There were many tissue-grabbing moments. The cast is led by rising theatre star, 25-year-old Didintle Khunou, who plays Celie, an African-American woman struggling against patriarchy and abuse.
This is her big stage debut and she knocks it out the park, growing and maturing right before the audience’s eyes. Seasoned director Janice Honeyman executes a remarkably solid production that guides the audience to zone in on the emotional core of the characters, underscored by the music.
When the feisty and confident Shug Avery (Lerato Mvelase) sings Too Beautiful for Words to Celie, her roaring vocals echo through the theatre and generate chants from women in the audience. Based on the gasps, I, along with others who have watched Mvelase on the small screen over the years, clearly had no idea that the petite actress has some mean pipes.
The stage, created by highly regarded production designer Sarah Roberts, is bigger than ever. Props have been carved from wood to take the audience to rural 20th-century Georgia. They change seamlessly during the show, transporting us to the heart of the complexities of each character.
One of the most beautiful threads of the story is the relationship between Celie and Shug. Celie sweetly brings a softening vulnerability to Shug who, like Celie, has been defined by how men around her regard her. Shug, a flashy honky-tonk singer, is the sometime mistress of Mister (Aubrey Poo). It’s Celie’s ability to see the love, tenderness and care that Shug needs in her life that ultimately builds both characters.
Celie might be scared, but, by the end, her vocals and confidence uplift the entire room.
Title: The Colour Purple
Venue: Joburg Theatre
End date: 4 March 2018
Tickets: R240 to R400 at webtickets.
(Photos: Supplied/City Press)