Karamu’s artistic team – led by Spivey and including the legendary scenic/lighting director, Richard H. Morris – spared no detail from the set and costuming to the singing and dancing.
By RHONDA CROWDER
During an interview with Karamu House’s Artistic Director Terrance Spivey about their production of the Broadway musical, “The Color Purple,” he discussed what it means for the small community theatre house to present a play of such magnitude; one with a cast of 43 people.
“We can do these kinds of shows that tour,” said Spivey, adding that there was never any doubt concerning Karamu’s ability. They did in fact produce “God’s Trombone” and “The Color Purple” is the biggest production aside from that show.
He went on to say the question was… Can local talent pull off “The Color Purple” at Karamu?
And, like a teacher with an entire class of passing students, he answered, “yes!”
And, after viewing opening night’s performance last Friday, I must agree.
Spivey was right on both fronts. Karamu’s artistic team – led by Spivey and including the legendary scenic/lighting director, Richard H. Morris – spared no detail from the set and costuming to the singing and dancing. Everything worked very well together, painting a vivid picture of “The Color Purple” right before our eyes. The opening night audience seemed to love it.
I particularly enjoyed the moving and drop down sets, something I haven’t seen much of at Karamu. They represented the different homes and locations within the story while the costuming and choreography worked well to set the African scenes. The costumes also properly dated the story and easily identified each character. Kathryn Musselman did an excellent job on Miss Celie’s pants.
Lastly, the songs… the songs will have you reciting them in your head for a few days, especially the final number. But, all of that would’ve been meaningless had actors failed to bring their A game.
Good thing they didn’t.
At the end of the first scene, as Celie and Nette sang and played pitty-pat, my eyes began to water just a bit as I realized I was about to witness one of my favorite stories come to life on stage at one of my favorite theaters – like an historic moment or something.
Then, as the performance moved through scene after scene, the cast of characters sang, danced and eloquently told the story we’ve all come to know and love so well, unequivocally proving Cleveland’s talent can compare to casts in productions like the traveling production I saw at Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall.
The Juke Joint and African scenes were the livelier, most colorful.
Unlike the book or movie, the story begins with the Church Ladies. According to Joyce Linzy (Doris the Church Lady), the Church Ladies are like a Greek Chorus.
“We know all. We see all. We tell all,” she said during an interview.
In Karamu’s production, the Church Ladies were so hilarious that the audience started to laugh as soon as they peeped out a door and stepped foot on stage. All three of the ladies did an excellent job, but Linzy’s facial expressions and movements made her the funniest.
Colleen Longshaw, an equity actress, may have experienced opening night jitters. Her performance as Celie was good, but probably could’ve stood a little more emotion. Celie endured a lot of pain throughout her life and it really didn’t seem to come across in this show. But, my intuition told me that once Longshaw warms up, she’ll turn the part out.
Corlesia Smith was excellent as Nette. Unfortunately, Nette’s role makes limited appearances throughout the story. Would’ve loved to see more of her throughout the play.
This is Smith’s third Karama production. I think she’s one to watch.
Mikhaela LaShawn, another equity actor, was very convincing as Shug Avery. Her solo performances were definitely among the best in the show.
Michael May did his thing as Mister and kudos to Butch Terry, who played Ole Mister, as well as Alexandria Echols as Squeek, for stand out supporting roles. All of the young people deserve applause as well.
Now, if you’ve seen the play before… So what! Go see it again. It’s a completely different experience. What I loved about seeing “The Color Purple” at Karamu as opposed to E.J. Thomas is the ability to see the emotions on the characters’ faces, to see when the singing and dancing is effortless, the up-close intimate feeling. Only thing left to say is great job Karamu.
“The Color Purple” is an excellent kick off to your 97th season!