Missed watching both American Idol and the Vancouver Olympics on television last night to attend a performance of "The Color Purple" starring the 2004 American Idol winner Fantasia. Well as it turned out, what was happening on television last night was the farthest thing from my mind, because the live performance of "The Color Purple" was fantastic. Fantasia was born to play the role of Celie, the heroine of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name that was previously adapted as a motion picture in 1985 by Steven Spielberg and now as a staged musical which originally opened on Broadway in 2005. Celie is the pre-cursor to this year's Precious, a young black woman sexually abused by her father, who bears two children by him by the age of 14. Then she is given away to be the wife of a horribly abusive man, where she basically lives in domestic servitude. Celie is repeatedly told she is ugly and worthless, and lives in passive acceptance of this fact for many years. Fantasia plays the role of Celie with remarkable finesse and restraint. Anyone who has seen her perform in concert or on Idol, knows that in real life, Fantasia has a big voice and a big personality to match. The role of Celie requires passivity and quiet resolution for most of the play, which Fantasia pulls off very well. Her voice remains strong throughout the performance, but her ability to play down her personality and transform it into the beaten down by life Celie is remarkable.
The rest of the cast is just as strong. As Celie's abusive husband Mister, Rufus Bonds Jr. is terrific, with a strong domineering stage presence and voice to match. Two more standouts were Felicia P. Fields as Celie's "take no prisoners" daughter-in-law Sophia and Stu James as her happy-go-lucky husband, Harpo. Sofia, played most memorably by Oprah Winfrey in the 1985 motion picture, is the antithesis of Celie, big, proud, beautiful and strong-willed. When Harpo seems unable to take firm control of her, Mister urges Harpo to beat Sofia to keep her in-line. Harpo, deeply in love with Sofia, is reluctant to do so, and goes to Celie for advice. Celie passively agrees with Mister and also urges Harpo to beat Sofia. Well one attempted beating was enough for Sofia to turn into a hurricane, to make Harpo look like a "mule had kicked him" and to pick up and leave. Sofia parting song "Hell No", sung to Celie after confronting her about advising Harpo wrongly, is rousing and masterfully delivered by Fields. Another standout is Angela Robinson as Shug Avery, a tawdry blues singer who Mister has been in love with all of his life and who comes to live with him and Celie for a spell. Robinson plays Shug with sass and sophistication, as she seduces everyone around her, even Celie. Another nice surprise in the cast is fellow Idol alum LaToya London, who portrays Nettie, Celie's younger sister. Fantasia and LaToya do a wonderful job harmonizing together and their real life friendship clearly enhances their roles as close sisters. Despite the rather harsh subject matter, there is always an undertone of hope that things will eventually work out for Celie. The stage design is minimal, but the costumes are colorful and the relatively large cast fills the stage with great dancing and song.
If you live in Los Angeles, you have only until February 28th to catch Fantasia in "The Color Purple" at the Pantages in Hollywood. You will definitely enjoy it.
Copyright 2010 Romy Schneider. All rights reserved.