Thursday, January 24, 2008
One I'll always remember
As my friend Steve was first to confirm this morning, The Color Purple is ending its Broadway run on Feb. 24. For me, it's kind of sad news. This is the first closing that's hit me personally. Sometimes a show is memorable because of the circumstances in which you see it, and that's certainly true in this case.
The Color Purple was the first show that Steve and I saw together - the Broadway Theatre, on Broadway, with Steve on Broadway. What a great combination! And I still can't believe that even though we bought our tickets weeks apart, we somehow ended up sitting right next to each other. It was fate, or the unseen hand of Oprah, or a little of both. Either way, we were meant to see that show, on that night in July, together.
I remember watching The Late Show with David Letterman the night he had Oprah as a guest. At the end of the show, on Dec. 1, 2005, he escorted her next door, to the Broadway Theatre, for the opening night of the The Color Purple. I never dreamed that someday I'd be in the audience at The Late Show, have my own escort to the Broadway Theatre, and thanks to Steve, my very own opening night Playbill.
Even though I missed out on seeing Fantasia that evening, I saw a wonderful understudy take on the role of Celie, Saycon Sengbloh. Best of all, that was the day I found my brother. How often do you leave the theater with a new sibling? Not often, I bet. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. Thank-you Steve!
Apart from the personal connection, I think that The Color Purple is a powerful, moving work. It's got a very compelling main character in Celie. You watch this poor black girl, abused, insecure and unloved, grow into a confident, mature, successful woman. In the song "I'm Here," when Celie sings "I'm thankful for loving who I really am," you realize what a monumental journey you've just been on with her.
It also reminds me a little of Fiddler on the Roof for its portrayal of a close-knit community united by faith in the face of a hostile, bigoted world. And I admire playwright Marsha Norman, who adapted the book from Alice Walker's novel, for not soft-pedaling racism or sexism or domestic abuse.
Some scenes can be very difficult to watch. I had an especially hard time when Celie goes to jail to visit Sofia, played by NaTasha Yvette Williams, who's been beaten and imprisoned for punching the mayor, after refusing to go to work as his wife's maid.
I was struck by sentence in the liner notes for the Broadway cast recording: "Music is the best way we have to express our joy as human beings." Despite some very serious themes, The Color Purple is an uplifting work. The music and lyrics, by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, are about joy and survival in the face of often terrible circumstances.
When Steve and I got to the theater, we saw a long line of people waiting to get their money back because Fantasia was out. I wish they would have stayed. I don't think The Color Purple needs a star. While I'm sad that the show is ending its Broadway run, I hope that it'll have a successful life on tour, and attract a diverse audience. It's not just an African-American story or a story that will only resonate with women. I think it's simply a great story.