Review: A vibrant ‘Color Purple’ at Red Mountain Theatre

The cast of “The Color Purple” includes, from left, Deztonie Cunningham, Myiesha J. Duff and Valisia LeKae. (Photo by Mary Kehr/Red Mountain Theatre)

Red Mountain Theatre’s “The Color Purple” is not an easy show to watch, but it’s an easy show to love.

Based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the soul-stirring musical tells the story of Celie, a young African American woman in the South in the early 20th century. She faces immense adversity, enduring abuse and oppression from her stepfather and later her husband.

It all plays out on stage in dramatic and sometimes graphic ways, but it also plays out with beautiful performances, a ravishing set and energetic choreography (and direction) from Monet.

Throughout her life, Celie finds solace in her relationship with her sister, Nettie. The two are separated, and Celie forms connections with other women, including the glamorous singer Shug Avery and the defiant Sofia, who is facing oppression of her own.

Like Walker’s book, the musical tackles harsh subjects head-on, but the sweeping and poignant work is also filled with redemption, survival, family and love.

Director Monet examines all of these layers with a fine cast led by the dynamic Myiesha J. Duff as Celie.

Duff has played this role before and is obviously comfortable with it in all of its emotions. Her Celie is multi-dimensional and oh, so powerful, particularly with the anthemic “What About Love?,” sung with the wonderful Valisia LeKae as Shug, and “I’m Here,” the searing song that ends the show.

Along with LeKae, fine support is given by Jeremy Jefferson, equally despicable and talented as Mister, Dorian as Harpo and June Givhan as Sofia. Givhan brings down the house twice, first with the feisty “Hell No!” in the first act and then, in the second act, with the crowd-pleasing “Any Little Thing” duet with Dorian.

Music director Anthony Smith leads a talented orchestra that tackles a number of genres with aplomb, and Keith A. Truax’s lighting design helps make Kincaid’s scenic design the standout that it is.

There’s a lot of depth to this “Color Purple,” as evidenced by Deztonie Cunningham as Nettie, Halo Wheeler as Squeak, Jaina Burrell and Chelsea Williams as young Celie and Nettie, and the talented ensemble members who show what they can do throughout the show.

“The Color Purple” is not your standard feel-good musical, but in the end, with Celie standing tall, it’s powerful and uplifting. It’s probably going to cause a few tears to flow, too.

“The Color Purple,” at Red Mountain Theatre through March 3.

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