There was no greater moment in preparing the revival of musical “The Color Purple” on Broadway than when Alice Walker, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, sat in on rehearsal for a full afternoon.
No one in the cast will forget Walker’s comments any more than her peaceful, empowering demeanor, says Associate Director Matthew DiCarlo.
“It was great to hear how happy she was that this production reminded her so much of the novel she wrote and that it’s really reflected in this current production,” DiCarlo remembers. “That was the greatest gift of all.”
This praise is not surprising.
The revival of “The Color Purple,” headed to The Smith Center April 24 to 29, places its spotlight squarely on the show’s powerful storyline and inspiring characters.
The look, the feel and even the music of the show — which earned a Tony for Best Musical Revival — is a world away from the first Broadway portrayal of “The Color Purple” that toured the nation years ago, DiCarlo emphasizes.
“The producers and writers wanted to try something different. A much more stripped-down, streamlined version that could focus on the heart of the show and its humanity,” DiCarlo says. “To people who saw the show before, I always say, ‘You’re going to feel like you’re seeing a new musical.’”
A Subtle Set for an Emotional Story
The vast reworking of the show under the vision of Director John Doyle included dramatically minimizing the set design and costuming, DiCarlo says.
In fact, the show’s only set design is wood platforming and chairs.
“The actors move the chairs around to create every location, whether church pews or a bar,” DiCarlo explains. “It allows the audience to participate in creating the physical world of the show themselves.”
This also ensures that nothing overshadows the intensely emotional storyline or the actors’ riveting portrayals, he adds.
“It really brings the focus in to (central character) Celie’s story and the people in her life and their physical and spiritual journeys,” DiCarlo says. “The show doesn’t get lost in lots of scenery changes or flashing lights. It’s really beautifully simple.”
Even the musical’s Grammy-winning score has been reworked from the first version of the Broadway musical.
“The songs you heard the first time are going to sound different. They have been arranged and orchestrated differently,” he says. “I think the score soars in a way that’s completely new and exciting.”
A Storyline Still Relevant Today
With 2018 marking the 35th anniversary of Walker’s novel winning the Pulitzer, DiCarlo strongly feels the storyline still resonates with audiences today.
Many can relate to the incredible transformation of Celie as she defies every obstacle in her life to overcome circumstances in which she’s oppressed, he says.
“By the end of the show, she’s a completely changed woman,” DiCarlo describes. “When she sings her big final number, everyone can connect to that feeling of finally being seen and finally being heard and finally finding their inner strength.”
See the Show
“The Color Purple” runs at The Smith Center April 24 to 29. For tickets, click here.
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