Review: "The Color Purple" At The Fred Kavli Theatre
But don't trust the face of it — because “The Color Purple,” now playing until Oct. 3 at the Fred Kavli Theater in Thousand Oaks, still manages to feel fresh and alive by infusing this old favorite with new life and talent.
Celie, the show's main character, is poor, black, female and ugly — to say that she is treated badly in life is an understatement. “The Color Purple,” based on Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, tells her story of self-discovery and triumph through a series of well-crafted musical numbers that deliver on every level.
As cliché as it is for a musical to promise “laughter and tears,” most of the audience members did laugh and cry — and clap their hands, holler joyously, wave their arms and leave the theater with wistful smiles on their faces.
This particular production features an exceptional cast brimming with talent and charisma. The precision with which the group handles the black southern dialect elegantly avoids any cartoonish moments without sacrificing authenticity.
We are treated to a range of vocal styles, ranging from actors who simply “sing” to those who belt out some serious “saaaangin’,” a choice that was always situationally appropriate rather than a chance for gratuitous showboating by the cast’s more gospel-oriented members.
The choreography shows restraint as well, which make bump-’n’-grind numbers like “Push Da Button” and “Top Dog” all the more fun and inspire catcalls and howls from the audience.
On the tender side, Dayna Jarae Dantzler brings a fresh brand of spitfire softness to the role of Celie. The actress’ vocal style evolves along with her character’s sense of self, making the triumphant “I’m Here” an anthem that stays with you long after the curtain falls. The spirited Church Ladies who serve as the Greek chorus of the show are a real treat, as is crowd favorite Sophia (Pam Trotter). The arm-swinging, strong-willed wife of Harpo (Lee Colston) joins her husband for the evening’s standout number: a sweet and giggly song of passion in the midst of mundane life, “Any Little Thing.”
If you’ve seen Steven Spielberg’s film interpretation you’ll find familiar lines and beloved characters; if you’ve read the book you’ll be treated to a lighter side of life that featured very little in Walker’s somber original work. In fact, the triumph of this musical is how deftly it handles heavy themes while letting us have so much fun.
Through the spirited singing and choreography, we forget we’re really watching a play about spousal abuse, racism, rape and lost love. We are, after all, participating in a good old-fashioned hootenanny with hundreds of strangers.
Reach contributor Thembi Ford here.