The Color Purple Comes to VA Rep, Aims to Inspire
Prepare to be inspired – Virginia Rep is bringing the acclaimed musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” to the Richmond stage this month.
After winning the 1983 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, Walker’s story of poor black women in the American South during the early twentieth-century was adapted by Steven Spielberg into a beloved film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey in 1985. But the version you’ll see at VA Rep when it opens this weekend will go a step further, as the story has been re-written to include musical interpretations of the scenes.
“These characters [are] able to go somewhere a little bit deeper emotionally because they’re able to sing,” said the play’s director Chase Kniffen of the 2005 musical adaptation, which was nominated for eleven Tony Awards. “I think that it’s really able to get inside the psyche of the characters in a way that perhaps the movie [couldn't].”
The plot revolves around the close bond between sisters Celie and Nettie, who rely on each other through decades of separation and abuse. “We’re really focusing on Celie’s hope and joy,” Kniffen said of the musical, which was written Marsha Norman, with music and lyrics by Brenda Russel, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. “She is essentially somebody who has everything taken from her [...] but ultimately she finds the love in herself.”
Playing Celie is Felicia Curry, a veteran of Washington, D.C. area theater and winner of the Helen Hayes Award. She is joined by notable Richmond actors Desirée Roots Centeio (Sofia), Katrina Carol Lewis (Nettie) and Josh Marin (Harpo), Broadway actor Jerold Solomon (Harpo) and professional singer Carolyn Minor-Daughtry (Shug Avery).
Kniffen is a three-time winner of a Richmond Theatre Critics Circle award for Best Director of a Musical. Notable recent Richmond credits include productions of “Other Desert Cities,” “Next to Normal” and “Spring Awakening.” Musical director Ben Miller has recently directed music for SPARC’s “Urinetown” and “The Wild Party” for the Firehouse Theatre Project.
The song styles featured range from gospel to blues to jazz to traditional Broadway, Kniffen said, performed by an ensemble cast of 33 actors and actresses from a variety of backgrounds, including professional thespians, church singers and musicians, and a live band.
“It’s an incredible, uplifting story of hope,” Kniffen said. “And I think everybody could use hope.”
The Color Purple runs June 20 to August 3 at the Sara Belle and Neil November Theatre, 114 West Broad Street.
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