Singer Fantasia Lights Up the Stage in the Kennedy Center€s €The Color Purple€
Edith Billups | 7/8/2009, 6:49 p.m.
Singer Fantasia proves she€s a convincing and dramatic actress in her role as Celie in €The Color Purple€ musical, which opened at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Northwest on Tue., June 30.
Based on Alice Walker€s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the 2 1/2 hour production falls short of being jaw-dropping €" it€s too long and some numbers could be shortened €" but there are several moments that make for impressive theater.
Underpinning the 25-member cast is Fantasia€s touching, gutsy Celie, a beaten down, abused female who refuses to let life snuff out her spirit. When the singer belts out €I€m Here,€ a moving ode to the triumph of the human spirit, one wants to root for any woman who has ever been mistreated by a man.
With music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, €The Color Purple€ features 19 songs performed by a talented and cast that gives solid and stellar performances.
A notable performance comes from Felicia P. Fields, who plays Sofia, the independent wife and mother who refuses to let anyone control her, including her husband, Harpo. In the role made famous by Oprah Winfrey in the 1985 movie, Fields steals every scene when she is on stage, particularly when she sings the gut-bucket €Hell No,€ a kick-butt, take- no-prisoners ditty that should scare the pants off any potential wife beater.
As Mister, Celie€s mean and ornery abuser who denigrates her at every turn, Rufus Bonds, Jr. is both despicable and pitiful as he hurls barbs and threats at the teenager, then adult, who is forced to clean his house and take care of his unmanageable kids.
In Act II, Bonds morphs from a wretch of a human to a compassionate soul who tries to amend the hurt and pain that he has caused Celie, but not before he nearly loses everything, a.k.a. appropriate karmic retribution.
Bringing sass and dash to the stage is singer and actress Angela Robinson whose Shug Avery is a saloon singer who has a soft spot for too many men, but who can see the goodness in Celie€s heart. Robinson plays the role with both bravado and tenderness and is particularly appealing when she sings €Too Beautiful for Words,€ a poignant melody that would raise the self-esteem of any one who has every doubted their self-worth.
Rounding out the cast is La Toya London, playing the part of Celie€s younger sister Nettie, who has to set sail for Africa to avoid the men who would subject her to the same fate that Celie endured. London plays the part with strength, but some of the scenes in Africa could be shortened.
Church ladies Lynette Dupree, Limberly Ann Harris and Virginia Ann Woodruff draw lots of laughs with their comedic rendering of the town gossipers who are in everybody€s business, as they try to figure out the paternity of Celie€s children and the relationship between Celie, Mister and Shug.
The Color Purple Orchestra, conducted by music director Sheilah Walker and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and music director Jarrell Crowder, support the ensemble. The set, by John Lee Beatty, easily changes from the dirt roads of Georgia to the continent of Africa, and costume designer Paul Tazewell has selected colors and fabrics that appropriately reflect the time period.
€The Color Purple,€ at the Opera House through Aug. 9, is worth seeing, particularly if you are a Fantasia fan. The €American Idol€ winner has a solid future in musical theater. For tickets, visit www.kennedycenter.org.