Birmingham Hippodrome – until 17th September 2022
Reviewed by Emily Cliff
From great American novel to star-casted film to Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical, Alison Walker’s The Color Purple has seen many formats over the years. A hard-hitting musical at the best of times, and a musical that needs passion, love and a cast to carry the story above and beyond. Like many in the audience, my only experience of this gut-wrenching story has either been with the book taught and analysed in schools or the 2015 new Broadway cast recording starring Cynthia Erivo and Jenifer Hudson – this new staging of the infamous musical was just as breathtaking as every adaptation I have come into contact with.
With a fantastic set designed by Alex Lowde, the show was a visual masterpiece from the very beginning. Simple alcoves built into the wider stage transformed the sets completely and the clever use of projection onto the timber background gave the stage that rustic southern American feel to it. The first look at costumes in the opening number showed that this show truly cared about doing both the book and the original Broadway show justice but also showing us that it was also trying to be its own individual show.
For those who don’t know, The Colour Purple tells the harrowing story of a woman silenced, shunned and shut away; abused by her stepfather and even more so by her husband, Celie’s life has been far from easy. The musical tells a story of resilience and the importance of standing up and keeping the faith. Me’sha Bryan was simply mesmerising as Celie. Bryan’s voice was powerful throughout the show, however, when it came to the infamous power ballad ‘I’m Here’ Bryan almost made herself too small for the stage. Her voice was extremely powerful and her performance as Celie was awe-inspiring and simply magnetic and I truly believe that she will be one of the biggest stars in musical theatre to come but she needs to fill and own the stage a little more when that song comes and not shy away from it.
Anelisa Lamola’s Sofia was just as spicy and punchy as anyone could hope for. Taking the character in her stride and truly making it her own and delivering it with power and determination. Another notable performance was Bree Smith as Shug, delivering the performance as gracefully as her character, teaching everyone in the audience some valuable life lessons.
Portraying Mister was Ako Mitchell. A tough role to perform and really do justice yet Mitchell did just that. The role of Mister is incredibly hard to nail when you consider everything, on the one hand, you hate him from the very beginning for putting Celie through such hell and abuse; from that along it is hard to recover, but when he gets his redemption Mitchell can show the audience the vulnerable side of a character we never even thought we could stand to like.
Overall this production of The Color Purple was simply beautiful. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre at the end. Supported by an all-powerful cast this production is bound for a London, maybe even a West End transfer by the end of the tour. Inspirational, gut-wrenching and emotional everyone needs to see this story of love and faith at least once.