The Color Purple Musical - Fox Theatre

color_purple.jpgMy wife and I have been making the most of my unexpected return from Kuwait, and last night we saw the musical version of "The Color Purple" at the Fox Theatre. The Alice Walker book is a personal favorite, so my hopes were definitely tempered by reservations about how a book with so many richly drawn characters and such a dramatic personal journey for the protagonist would be successfully condensed into a two-act performance.

The short answer is, it was not. The sets and costumes were beautiful, most of the songs hit just the right pitch, and the performances were generally quite good (Felicia Fields steals the show as Sophia). But the novel portrays nearly the entire life of its protagonist, Celie, from the depths of pain and despair at the hands of her abusive father and husband, to the peaks of joy and relief when she declares her independence and when she is reunited with loved ones. The overly-condensed tale told in the musical version severely flattens this emotional range, in sometimes unnatural ways. The character redemption and reunions which provide the dramatic climax and catharsis in the book are quite jarring in the musical, and simply do not ring true. This dislodges the suspension of disbelief necessary to fully submerge into the depths of Celie's journey.

The musical might be more enjoyable for those who have not read the book, although I question whether one can make sense of the plot at all without that gap-filling knowledge. I liked the music, I loved the set production, and Felicia Fields' performance was almost worth the money itself. And it is impossible not to appreciate any evening spent at the Fox. But the strongest feeling I got from the night was the urge to pull the book out and relive the genuine experience of Alice Walker's creation.