An unforgettable theatre experience
By Sally McKenzie
The emotional impact of Stageart’s The Color Purple is something so very special. It is a show that I have known about for a very long time, have owned the cast album, sung the songs and seen the movie. Not until tonight, however, have I realized how powerful this show really is.
Most people know the movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, which was later brought to life on stage by Oprah Winfrey – this time as producer. The story, beginning in the early 20th century, follows the story of ‘Celie’, an African-American woman in America’s south, facing a life of abuse by her father and husband and how she struggles to maintain her faith in God and humanity.
Jayme-Lee Hanekom is an absolute shining light in this superb production – from the moment she steps on stage in the very first scene as a very young Celie, singing with her sister to the mature woman who leads the whole cast in the spine-tingling finale. Hanekom is absolutely breathtaking in this role, and her vocals are equally as magnificent Along this journey I felt her pain, sorrow, heartache, anger, hatred, joy and the overwhelming love she had for her sister, Nettie (Anna Francesca Armenia) and Shug Avery (Thando Sikwila), and I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only one in tears.
Armenia was delightful in her role, radiating joy and hope in everything she did. She and Hanekom complemented each other perfectly. Sikwila thrived as Shug: her duet with Celie – ‘What About Love’ – was sublime. Their velvet voices blended like nothing I have heard before. They were born to sing together. Sikwila was equally as impressive belting out her song at the ‘juke joint’ – ‘Push The Button’.
Noelan Petero (as Doris), Sasha Hennequin (Darlene) and Anisha Senarante (Jarene) had just the right amount of ‘sass’ as the trio providing the social commentary/gossip as the story unfolded. Their harmonies together were also on point. Kendrew A. Heriveaux (Mister) was consistently strong in his role as Celie’s abusive husband. Vanessa Menjiva was definitely an audience-favourite as the strong-willed, tough female role-model , Sofia. As her husband Harpo, Iopu Auva played the perfect ‘second fiddle’ to Sofia. There are too many roles to mention here, but this is a show with no weak links. The ensemble was brilliant! Harmonies were well-executed and superbly balanced and blended. Whether playing an evangelical parishioner, a worker on the farm, a native African in the Mission, each and every cast member was completely connected to their character and purpose for being part of that scene.
The set was simple but completely fitting for the staging of this production: nothing else was needed with performances from the cast so astonishingly good. Lighting was beautifully designed by Jason Bovaird and Maddy Seach, helping provide an apt frame for the intimacy of the story and the focus on the personal journey of Celie. Congratulations to director Robbie Carmelotti for his exemplary creative choices. Costumes by Rhiannon Irving were also simple, but appropriate for the period and status of each character. The brightness of the traditional African garments in the second half of the show was a fitting contrast.
Sound design (Marcello Lo Ricco) was exceptional, providing the perfect balance between band and cast. It was the richest and most heartfelt quality of sound I have experienced in this space. Musical direction by Caleb Garfinkel was well-executed. With the music in this production clearly a highlight, Garfinkel certainly had his work cut out for him – masterfully balancing the leading of the band while also playing guitar and keyboard. Diction was not always clear, however – particularly amongst the singing from the female trio. This was partly due to the heavy accents required of them. I also worry about the female cast maintaining their voices. There is so much emotional belt in this show – which can definitely take its toll. Hopefully an informed vocal coach is on hand.
The Color Purple is showing at Chapel off Chapel from 15th October to 6th November. If the immediate standing ovation after tonight’s performance is anything to go by, this show is sure to be a sell-out. Don’t miss out! I have already booked my ticket to see it again.
Image by Belinda Stodder