Here’s what to rush out and see now: THE COLOR PURPLE!! WOW. I saw a local production of this several years ago and it left me cold. The production now onstage at the SHUBERT THEATRE is on fire! A jubilant prayer of a musical which won Tonys for best revival of a musical in 2015, The COLOR PURPLE is passionate, fearless, sexy, soaring, and in this watershed moment for abused and unheard women everywhere, it is triumphantly empowering. The musical’s book by Marsha Norman is based on the 1982 novel by Alice Walker which tells the tale of an African-American woman named Celie (the extraordinary Adrianna Hicks) and her extended circle of family, friends, and community, post slavery in the deep south and into the early 20th century. Not all the performers in the following clip are in the current cast at the Shubert, but this video will give you an excellent sense of what to expect:
The score is a heady brew of gospel, soul, R& B and the cast is an exceptional ensemble of some of the most inspiring performers ever to hit the stage. Leading the charge is Adrianna Hicks as Celie who starts softly and carries a big heart; she becomes the blazing center of righteous indignation and the redemptive power of love. Then there’s Carrie Compere as her friend, the “take no prisoners” Sofia, a warm and fearsome female force with a voice that moves mountains; she challenges the men who try to rein her in (husband Harpo is the appealing J. Daughtry) as well as a system which almost crushes her. Carla R. Stewart as the steamy Shug Avery is a voluptuous hothouse flower whose sexual sweetness and raunchy, low-down vocals are a siren call to anyone male or female who catches her scent.
The set is warmly lit and sublimely simple, not much more than brittle yellowed plywood and a collection of ladder back chairs used in ingenious ways to move the action from one household to another, and encounters conventional to carnal; equally inventive and muscular choreography evokes the earthiness and hardscrabble lives of a community of people struggling to find their place in a harsh society.
I was on my feet cheering, crying, and also quietly moved not only by the commitment of the performances, but what this musical has to say about resilience, the tragedy of abuse from generation to generation, and the overwhelming power of love. I guarantee a stunning evening of theater. See THE COLOR PURPLE at the SHUBERT THEATRE only through DEC.3!
Also onstage and worth a stop is Moonbox Productions clever mounting of THE 39 STEPS, a comic thriller in which four nimble actors inhabit 150 characters. (So we are told–I didn’t count.) They do a darn good job of it, as they unravel this farcical mystery thriller. The plot takes its cue from the Hitchcock film of the same name, and references many more from “Rebecca” and “Rear Window” to “North By Northwest” and “Strangers On A Train.”
Spies and chaos ensue when a mysterious woman is murdered and the action takes us from a modest London apartment to the misty moors. A deft cast of daft characters adroitly maneuver minimal sets to keeps things moving. Despite a fleet first act, the second bogs down, but the clever cast is never out of step: kudos to a dapper Kevin Cirone, the crackerjack Matthew Zahnzinger and Bob Mussett who flip characters as easily as pancakes, and sleek Sarah Gazdowicz whose femmes are as versatile as they are fatale.
At the Boston Center for the arts Plaza Theatre through December 9!
Finally there’s SHE LOVES ME at the newly rebranded Greater Boston Stage Company (formerly Stoneham Theatre). It was pleasant but dated with a lackluster score despite an able cast: the beautiful Jennifer Ellis and the courtly Sam Simahk sweetly sing their hearts out as department store co-workers who fall in love with each other by way of love letters, without realizing they already know each other.
The tale is of course familiar from the movies “The Shop Around The Corner” and “You’ve Got Mail,” and was originally adapted from the 1937 play “Parfumerie.” But despite an excellent supporting cast including Aimee Doherty, Robert Saoud, and Jared Troilo, and a successful and award-winning revival on Broadway in 2016, I wasn’t persuaded to love this production. Ilyse Robbins’ direction felt tepid, and Ellis and Simahk don’t cook up enough chemistry to make me love them. I loved the hats and gloves more. At the GREATER BOSTON STAGE COMPANY through December 23.