THE NIGHT OF ITS PREMIERE IN SAN JOSE
SAN JOSE, California – When a musical is masterly acted, the story takes a life of its own. Somehow we, the audience, get carried away into the imaginary world of the characters and start caring for them;
The above description describes the type of acting we saw on Tuesday, November 23 at the Center for the Performing Arts in San Jose when BROADWAY SAN JOSE presented PHOENIX ENTERTAINMENT – JOYFUL NOISEMAKERS, LLC Stephen B.Kane and Michael McFadden production of the musical “THE COLOR PURPLE.”
From left to right Celie (Dayna Jarl dantzler) and Nettie (Traci Allen) in “THE COLOR PURPLE” Photo: Scott Suchman
Based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning novel writer Marsha Norm The musical relates the story of Celie, (Dayna Jarae Dantzler} a girl living in Georgia during the years l909 to l949, who at the age of 14 after being raped by “Pa” (Mark Hall) the man she believes was her father (he was not) and bearing him two children (“conveniently” removed away from her after birth) is given, along with a cow to recompense for the girl's physical ugliness, to Mister (Edward C. Smith) a rich owner of a plantation, to serve as his mistress and to take care of his children. When "Pa" sent Celie to live with Mister (Smith) it devastated Celie (Dantzler) emotionally. Her older sister Nettie (Traci Allen) was the only love she ever had in her life. Yet from that day on, Celie was “forced” to live for the rest of her life in a loveless union with Mister and to suffer his perennial abuse.
If this type of story does not seem to be relevant material for a musical, we may add that Marsh Norman, who wrote the book, and Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, who wrote the music and lyrics added many dances to the story, jazzy songs and a comic Church choir of Gospel singers which included Soloist (Kadejah One) and three gossiping “Church Ladies” Doris (Nesha Ward) Darlene (Virlinda Stanton) and Jarene (Deaun Parker) that with their songs and bits of gossip managed to make us laugh and kept the action going.
The acting of the musical was excellent that night. In the comic side, Sofia (Pam Trotter) who represent a big woman who takes no abuse from any man, was convincing as she tried to teach Celie a thing or two about women's abuse, and funny when she "educates" Harpo (Lee Edward Colston II) her husband who is threatening to beat her, by hitting him with a frying pan and giving him a purple eye.
Yet nothing in the dramatic side of the musical compares with the superb acting of Dantzler who not only sang well but also portrayed her Celie so true to life that made the audience unaware that they were watching a performance. As an actress, Dantzler portrayed in the musical her broad range of emotions with the agility of a concert pianist playing the piano keys in a concerto's piece. Danzler was Celie, as a child singing “Huckleberry Pie” playing hands games with her sister. She was Celie as a young mother, cuddling her baby boy. He was Celie as the showed the horror of an abused wife in her eyes, her dispair to hear over and over from Mister that she is ugly and her happiness to realize that she is beautiful as told to her by Mister’s lover.
Directed by Gary Griffin, “The Color Purple” was so well acted the night that the performance took life. Every one of the actors was in character, and some of them such as Nettie (Traci Allen), Mister (Smith) Harpo (Lee Edward Colston II) and Shug Avery (Taprena Augustine) distinguish themselves not only for playing their part realistically but also for their dancing and singing. The only word that describes the performance of THE COLOR PURPLE on its premiere in San Jose is "GREAT." It deserved the standing ovation.