Photos – Belinda Strodder
Having raised the bar for independent musical theatre in Melbourne with recent productions such as Dreamgirls and the excellent In the Heights, audiences have been waiting to see how StageArt would be able to bring The Color Purple to the stage. Well wait no more, this beautiful production succeeds on many levels, and adds yet another notch to their impressive production history.
Alice Walker's much loved novel became a film sensation in the 1980s and catapulted two of its stars, Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, to stardom. It wasn't until 2005 that a musical adaptation made it to a Broadway stage. The collaboration between Marsha Norman, Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray (book, music and lyrics) brought new life to The Color Purple, paying tribute to both Alice Walker's writing and the film.
A revised, streamlined version was produced by Menier Chocolate Factory in 2013, and transferred to Broadway last season, where it is still playing to great acclaim. This version is also the basis for this Melbourne production.
The story of the central character Celie, is not a pleasant one. At age 14, she is about to give birth to her second child, the result of regularly being raped by her father. She is told she is worthless and ugly and within a few years is offered as a wife to a man she loathes. The only light in her life is the close bond she has with her sister Nettie. However, after Nettie is forced to leave home, Celie has to fend for herself.
Rising above the darkness, Walker's story is filled with strength and hope and even forgiveness, and the musical celebrates this in the most uplifting ways. This production captures this exceedingly well, where the characters are the primary focus as the production is stripped back.
Director and designer Robbie Carmellotti has done a fine job by giving the actors a simple, raised structure to perform on. One that looks elegant and functions well. Aided by some beautiful lighting by Jason Bovaird and Maddy Seach, and costumes from Rhiannon Irving, this production is visually very attractive. Adding to the lustre is the noticeably rich sound design by Marcello Lo Ricco.
Any success for this story rests on the ability to be able to find suitable performers who can play a cast of African American characters, something which no doubt has left most commercial producers loathe to bring The Color Purple to our stages. Full credit to StageArt who have made it their mission to give talented performers from diverse cultural backgrounds the opportunity to shine. And they do.
The company as a whole are all talented singers and excel in their individual and ensemble moments. Particularly memorable though are Anna Francesca Armenia as Nettie, Augustin Tchantcho as Ole Mister, and Kendrew A Heriveaux as Mister.
Jayme-Lee Hanekom is the rock that is Celie. Small in stature, but huge in talent, Hanekom brings a beautiful, quiet strength to a role that requires her to age from early teens to middle age. With powerhouse vocals she delivers some of the show's finest moments – including the rousing I'm Here in Act Two. A very impressive performance from someone who should make a lasting mark on the musical theatre stage.
StageArt and The Color Purple have shown that there is a world of exceptional musical theatre treats to be savoured beyond the city walls. Catching this production is highly recommended.
The Color Purple
Directed by Robbie Carmellotti
Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran VIC
Dates: 13 October – 6 November 2016
Bookings: 8290 7000 | www.chapeloffchapel.com.au