“The Color Purple” is good.
But it’s not great, and it really needs to be. That’s because the national tour now in Miami for a six-day run doesn’t have the usual Broadway dazzle. Scrubbed clean of all gloss and gleam, which would be painfully incongruous with the oppressive themes, it’s all about the vocals.
The set is a study in abstraction, a few multilevel platforms and a few chairs. That’s it. There’s not a single big production sequence with gasp-worthy choreography, nor is there a parade of clutch-the-pearls costumes. So if the spectacle can never get out of first gear, then the talent has to blaze. Yes, there is plenty of warmth and occasionally some heat when it comes to the singing. But despite what is clearly a capable company, there are few sparks in this stage version of Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which was famously turned into a hit movie in 1985.
Like those predecessors, the musical sticks to the story of black women dealing with racism, sexism, poverty in the South from 1909 to 1949. As the show opens, we meet Celie (Adrianna Hicks) when she's 14 years old and pregnant with her second child by a man she calls Pa, who marries her off to Mister (Gavin Gregory). Over the years, Mister abuses her in every way, even severing contact with her beloved sister, Nettie (N’Jameh Camara). Beaten down, humiliated and traumatized, Celie eventually finds courage through Sofia (Carrie Compere), a no-nonsense woman who is every bit the equal of her man Harpo (J. Daughtry). Then, she finds love through Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart), a blues singer leaving a trail of broken hearts.
“The Color Purple” has a moving and mellifluous score, packed with poetry as it samples from a spectrum of African-American musical styles: gospel, ragtime, blues, swing. The cast sings it well, with harmonies as tight as two coats of paint. But South Florida fans of “The Color Purple” will remember the sonic boom of the 2009 road tour that also played Miami. This company — very good, but not great — doesn’t imbue the music with that same vibrancy and urgency. And some of the actors tamp down the humor with indecipherable line delivery.
It is an admirable effort, though, for the better part of two hours with a 15-minute intermission. They almost land the second act, which even the Great White Way staging wasn’t able to pull a win from with all the I-am-me-I-am-myself talk sounding like a 1970s Werner H. Erhard EST session. Almost. They’re good, but they’d have to be great to make that work.
“The Color Purple” runs through March 4 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., in Miami. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. matinee Saturday; 1 p.m. matinee Sunday. Tickets cost $29-$145. To order, call 305-949-6722 or go to ArshtCenter.org.