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"The Color Purple" at Pollard well worth noticing

The Pollard Theatre in Guthrie is continuing a powerful 29th season with “The Color Purple” from Alice Walker’s novel of the same name.

This musical of the early 21st century takes us back to early 20th century Georgia, a beautiful place to be if one was fortunate enough to be wealthy, white and male.

Walker’s book about a poor black woman is a story about oppression and survival. The full title, “The Color Purple, the Musical about Love,” tells us what allows one woman, Celie, to conquer the obstacles of her time. For many like her, enduring love is about more than endurance. The book for the musical is by Marsha Norman, and the music and lyrics are a collaboration of Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.

W. Jerome Stevenson, artistic director of the Pollard, directs “The Color Purple” with artistry, sensitivity and honesty. Selecting a cast of incredibly talented and versatile performers, Stevenson makes them quite real, not simply realistic.

James A. Hughes’ scenic design indicates squalor while evoking a sense of home that is enhanced by Stevenson’s lighting design. The costumes by Michael James are well-conceived, appropriately drab, but not overpoweringly so.

Todd S. Malicoate, musical director, and Hui Cha Poos, choreographer, bring out the accomplishments of the cast as Stevenson’s direction gives them the power to connect to the audience with conviction.

Nakeisha McGee plays "Celie," the protagonist. McGee has the acting ability to communicate every emotion with her eyes and her singing ability. She glides from tender to terrified, cowed to courageous. Chakendra Fennell plays the lovely sister. Fennell exhibits sisterly affection with chemistry creating a genuine family resemblance. Fennell also creates another quite opposite character in "Squeak" with equal integrity but no similarity.

Delanie Brewer is "Shug Avery," the girl on every one’s lips; she seems to be either smooching or causing gossip. Brewer is not motivated by racial issues; she is simply very racy! Erica Richardson is "Sofia," wife to Celie’s stepson. Sofia is sexy and sassy as she sashays about with attitude, flair and focus.

Michael Page is "Mister," a man too insecure for success and too brutish to be anything but cruel. Page plays Mister with power and hate, leaving just enough room for a kernel of kindness. Valentino Valentin is Mister’s son, "Harpo." Harpo is unusually proud to be married to Sofia in spite of her domination. Valentin has mastered the completely secure man contrasted to the absolute mastery of the dominant male in that time. It works dynamically.

Supporting players in this production show great talent and enthusiasm. De’Vin Lewis, Lisa Mack, Alyssa Pearson and Ashley Walker form a fantastic feminine four. Their harmony, humor, energy and enthusiasm in an uninhibited chorus capture the listener. Roderick Porter as "Pa/Old Mister" forms a rapport with other characters that connects with strength in spite of his brutality. Christopher Shepard is the "Preacher" who overcomes the limitations of a few brief appearances, expertly revealing his difficulty in preserving faith of his flock with kindness and concern. D.J. Aaron, Nigel Hall and Taylor Blackman blend beautifully as they lead their ladies in the dance of uncommon joy. Glenda Nash as "Alice Walker," author of the book, reveals the forceful personality that shaped Walker’s activism as well as her grace.

Crew members, led by production stage manager and fight captain Joshua McGowen, are Jared Blount, Michael Long, Jennifer Hunt, James Ong and Kaylee Trowbridge. Amandanell Bold indispensably dresses cast members in the designs of Michael James. Nigel Hall and Taylor Blackman are the indispensable dance captains for choreographer Hui Cha Poos.

The entire cast, from the leading players to the supporting players, put heart and soul into this production. The voices always soar, the comedy makes us roar, the sexuality makes us want more and the story is one we can’t ignore.

The important thing about “The Color Purple” is two-fold: first, every cast member has a superb voice, and second, the entire cast tells a tale that they profoundly believe must be told. Their belief becomes ours. Their journey is an inspiration. And once again, Stevenson inspires and directs a success for the Pollard Theatre.

“The Color Purple” plays through Oct. 31. Tickets and information are available at (405) 282-2800 or The Pollard Theatre is at 120 W Harrison Ave. in downtown Guthrie.

Elizabeth Hurd

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