Highly Recommended**** As I enter the Mercury Theater, that quaint ,intimate space just minutes from downtown, I feel the love that Artistic Director L.Walter Stearns has put into making it even better with each production. From the facade to the box office and rest rooms, to the stage area itself, Walter and his love of musical theater and the venue can be felt. This, his first full season has been one of glory and triumph for him and his staff. “Barnum” was a huge success, adored by audiences of all ages and we all know that “The Christmas Schooner” already a holiday tradition will glow and sparkle as well as warm our hearts, but I was concerned about the current production, “The Color Purple” when first announced- a difficult show indeed, for a smaller theater? In Wrigleyville? Well, Walter and his finely tuned staff have made it happen, and not just happen, but an enjoyable theatrical experience on Southport!
Directed by Walter who uses a small space to full advantage and some very clever choreography by Brenda Didier ( an artist when it come sto making small spaces seem much larger) an dof course musical director Eugene Dizon has done his thing with some revisions on the arrangements( Joseph Joubert and Jonathan Tunick) of the music (Brenda Russell,Allee Willis and Stephen Bray) and the 6 musicians, under the direction of Oliver Townsend, sound like an orchestra of many more instruments.
“The Color Purple” is of course the musical version of the award winning film of the same name, based on the novel by Alice Walker. The book for the musical is written by Marsha Norman. While the stage version is different than the movie, it’s story is the same- it is about love and how it can be found in many ways, by many people. The story covers four decades in the life of Celie ( a solid performance by the incredible Trisha Jeffrey) as she is “sold” by her father to a widower who needs a woman to raise his kids. Mister ( deftly handled by Keithon Gipson) is an unfeeling man who beats Celie and hides letters from her sister , Nettie ( the lovely Crystal Corinne Wood) who has gone off to Africa to serve as a missionary.
While Celie is beaten and put down by Mister and his son Harpo ( Evan Tyrone Martin) as well as the women of the church, she becomes a stronger person who wants nothing more than to find happiness and her children ( she was forced to give away her babies by her father). Through time, as she gains her strength to overcome all that has happened to her, we watch her become a tower of strength and the one person that all can rely on. Through a great mixture of music- jazz, pop,blues and of course Gospel, we ar entertained for almost three hours with some wonderful voices and stupendous dance, but the key to this production holding us dear to our hearts is the acting. What a solid cast Stearns has assembled. Jasondra Johnson as Sofia is amazing,Donica Lynn as the Chruch soloist, and the church ladies ( a sort of country Greek Chorus) Sydney Charles, Brittany L.Bradshaw and Carrie Louise Abernathy are amazing. Adrienne Walker takes on the meaty role of Shug Avery, the entertainer who truly teaches Celie that love can conquer all.
I must tell you that being almost three hours might seem like a long time to sit in a theater, but the production on the stage at the Mercury flows so well it seems to feel far shorter. That is when you know that you are seeing a solid show- no one is staring at their watch wondering if it is over soon. In fact, I think the opeing night audience would have enjoyed a few more numbers after the rousing finale. The set by Robert Knuth with lighting by Nick Belley and a great array of costumes by Frances maggio who has forty years plus to work around. The sound (Mike Ross) is clear and crisp and while the musicians are backstage we had no problem with clarity from start to finish. The songs are primarily way of moving the story along, but the standout numbers are “What About Love” ( after all, this is a story about love) and “I’m Here”, but the mixture of music,dance and story-telling makes this epic love story feel very real. We get to watch the changes in the characters as they learn from one another and despite all the hardships Celie goes through, she is “still here” and for all, a happy ending!
“The Color Purple” will continue at The Mercury Theater, located at 3745 N, Southport through October 27th with a performance schedule as follows:
Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $22- $59 and are available at the box office, by phone at 773-325-1700 or online at www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com
There is valet parking, metered street parking and a lot just North of the theater. Lots of dining on the street- all types.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review-round-up and click at “The Color Purple”