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“The Color Purple” currently playing at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is a revelation. I have been falling more in love with WBTT every season. The cast and artistic team put their hearts and souls into every production, and the talent of the entire troupe is electric.
Last season, my favorite show was “Knock Me a Kiss,” which offered a fascinating glimpse into the private lives of famed Harlem Renaissance intellectual W.E.B. DuBoise and his family. I also delighted in seeing the musical productions “Jazz Hot Mamas” and “The Cotton Club,” which offered tour de force performances by a cast of singers with immense talent and versatility.
This season’s opener signaled that the WBTT is ushering in a new era with a more expansive stage, new comfortable assigned seats with a hefty rake for great sight lines, and a Broadway quality show with a familiar cast all soaring in their craft to remarkable heights with this production.
Because I never saw the movie or the Broadway show, the rich and loveable characters – Ceeli (Apphia Campbell), Nettie (Khadijah Rolie), Shug Avery (Neyce Pierre), Harpo (Joel Patrick King), and Olivia (Kayla Rose Aimable) were wondrous to experience for the first time. Ceeli, as a young girl (Janiah Gregory) was raped repeatedly by her Pa (Jeffrey Cason) and called ugly by nearly everyone she meets. Yet her purity of spirit while remaining quite aware of the indignity surrounding her was magical to watch. Campbell played Ceeli with grace and serenity while showcasing her amazing voice as she belted show-stopping numbers like “What About Love,” “I’m Here,” and “The Color Purple.”
Campbell and Rolie portrayed loving sisters growing up apart - each finding their way in the world and moving away from the grip of their abusive Pa. The arrival of the self-assured Aimable brought spunk and heart to the production, and King was a jubilant Harpo, the perfect foil to his heartless father (Mister played despicably by Cecil E. Washington, Jr.) Harpo’s angelic face wins over all the ladies and his demeanor finally helps Mister learn how to appreciate and care for his family.
Every actor in the production brought everything they had to their individual roles, and the result was one of the best productions I could have imagined. Despite the difficult subject matter, particularly the nearly unrelenting abuse, “The Color Purple” is an incredibly uplifting production that brought the entire audience, far more diverse than in years past, to its feet.
I can hardly wait to see what else is in store for this season. For tickets to this production and the rest of this season, go to http://www.westcoastblacktheatre.org/.
All photos by Don Daly