There are TWO entertaining and meaningful shows to see on stage NOW in Boston and beyond!

Head out to Concord, MA to see a very moving production of THE COLOR PURPLE  before it closes, presented by The Umbrella Stage Company and one of the best productions I ever seen by this  company. At the heart of this Tony Award-winning musical based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, book by Marsha Norman, is a tale of identity, self-realization, love, and healing. Celie, tenderly embodied by Shy’Kira Allen is a young black woman trapped in a cycle of poverty and abusive relationships, in the middle of the Jim Crow south.  It takes Allen a bit to grab hold of the character and her climactic song is pitched beyond the comfortable range of her voice. But Allen’s grace and gravitas as an actress sustains her performance and her Celie blooms before our very eyes.

Celie’s sister Nettie is played by Kayla Leacock whose sweet and steady love is Celie’s rock, while Brian Demar Jones as the brutal “Mister” manages to convey some humanity beyond the cruelty Celie has suffered at his hands. Kai Clifton’s bigger-than-life Sofia is tragically defiant and funny; we can’t help but smile as she cooks up some heat with her obliging man, the soft-spoken Harpo played by a winning Jordan Aaron Hall. And then there’s Crystin Gilmore’s Shug Avery– the sexy object of both Mister’s and Celie’s affections. Gilmore’s earthy performance is all heat and swagger; she moves like a life force in and out of Celie’s life, their sensual relationship not merely a soft place for Celie to fall but also a gateway to something transcendent which will ultimately sustain her.

The production got to me. It seemed to accumulate power on Janie E. Howland’s evocative set; its vibrant, soul-stirring musical score unfolding under the direction of Nathanael Wilkerson, choreographed by Najee A. Brown, and sung by an expressive ensemble whose performances kept pulling us in under BW Gonzalez sensitive direction. The whole cast seemed to be drawing on some deep well of feeling and love and it spilled over into the audience this past Sunday afternoon when I saw it. You can see THE COLOR PURPLE  only  through June 4– Don’t miss it!

AND SpeakEasy Stage presents a musical with heart, exuberance, and an important reminder for the here and now pulled from headlines past. THE PROM is a hilarious and moving tale of thespians helping lesbians in a small Indiana town where a gay teen couple are banned from attending their H.S. prom for wanting to bring their same sex dates! After withering reviews of their most recent show about Eleanor Roosevelt (someone MUST write that musical!) the thespian quartet in question decide to  hitch their shrinking careers to a worthy cause, in their words “a safe, high profile, low risk injustice they can drive to. ” They’re “gonna change the world one lesbian at a time!”

This fabulous foursome descends on Edgewater Indiana: Mary Callanan as big-voiced Diva Dee Dee Allen, Johnny Kuntz as the florid and fussy Barry, Jared Troilo as Trent who wears his Juilliard- training like a diamond chip on his shoulder, and Lisa Yuen as Angie Dickinson a one-woman Greek chorus before a mountain of egomaniacs.  Young Emma Nolan played by the sweet-voiced Liesie Kelly and her secret love Alyssa sensitively played by Abriel Coleman –never see these characters coming. Neither does Alyssa’s mother and head of the PTA (Amy Barker), nor the principal Mr. Hawkins (Anthony Pires, Jr.) who has a sweet spot for musical theater and Dee Dee who has no qualms about exploiting his fan boy crush. Make no mistake–this is a first-rate ensemble of musical theater performers most of whom are well-known in these parts, and all of whom elevate these parts as a dazzling ensemble.

The songs (Music /Matthew Sklar) and dances are to die for. The musical numbers choreographed by Taavon Gamble are supercharged by an electrifying ensemble with attitude to spare.  The book (Bob Martin with Chad Beguelin who also wrote lyrics) lovingly spoofs theater conventions and personalities rather than skewering them into oblivion– which is wise given what’s most at stake here: the coming of age and identity of a young woman who’s navigating her private life and its public reception among her peers and the wider public. Bravo to Director Paul Daigneault who achieves a tone which balances the ridiculous and the sublime. The show leans into the vulnerability and humanity of these very broad, Broadway stereotypes, so that Emma’s dilemma ultimately takes center stage and shines a light back on those who showed up to put the spotlight on her!  At a time when The Washington Post reports (May 2, 2023 6:00 a.m. EDT) that schools from California to Pennsylvania “are canceling student shows with LGBTQ characters,” do your heart some good and see THE PROM. You will LOVE IT. At SpeakEasy Stage through June 10!