A Joyful Noise – a review of “The Color Purple”

By Michael Buzzelli

Life is battering Celie (Kayla Davion) around hard until she takes agency in her and demands love and respect in the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, “The Color Purple.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel gained popularity in 1985 when Steven Spielberg turned it into a film. Even though it’s been a book, movie, musical, and movie musical, be warned. Spoilers abound.

Celie and her sister Nettie (Danyel Fulton) are under the ever-watchful eye of their stern Pa (Brady D. Patsy, playing heavily against type). After the death of her mother, Celie, at fourteen, becomes pregnant by the man who is allegedly raising her. He gets rid of the two babies she has and sells her off to Mister (Akron Lanier Watson).

Celie runs herself ragged tending to Mister’s every need and caring for his children.  Her only joy is spending time with Nettie. When Mister tries to rape Nettie, she runs away and the sisters are seemingly forever parted.

Her life of squalor and servitude seems relentless until her husband’s former lover, Shug Avery (a magnetic Tamyra Gray), belly flops into her life. Mister brings her home in a drunken, possibly drugged, stupor and demands that his wife clean her up. Celie tends to the needs of her husband’s mistress. Because Celie is bright, kind and hopeful, she and Shug fall in love.

Shug finds a stack of letters from Nettie that Mister had hidden from Celie. The fuse is lit and Celie realizes she needs a new life – one without her husband.

Kayla Davion and Tamyra Gray in “The Color Purple.”

“The Color Purple” has a stacked cast of performers. The show has some prominent belters in it gloriously singing Brenda Russell, Alle Willis and Stephen Bray’s lyrics.

Davion is magnificent as Celie. Her voice is powerful. When she performs the show-stopper, “I’m Here,” she literally and figuratively stopped the show with a standing ovation on opening night.

Gray is delightful. Shug is a messy character, but Gray handles her strengths and her flaws with aplomb.

Maiesha McQueen is another one of the aforementioned belters. She gets several moments to shine. She gets some of the best laughs in the show.

There are a lot of excellent performances.

Saige Smith plays a high-pitched dingbat aptly named Squeak.

Jason Shavers plays Ol’ Mister, Mister’s cruel and intimidating father wherein we learn that peaches, like apples, don’t fall far from their trees.

Savannah Lee Birdsong’s Darlene is part of a Greek Chorus of Church Ladies  who spills the tea in song.

P.S. “The Color Purple” can be a little preachy, but you don’t have to believe in God to listen to the glorious Gospel music and jumping jazz.

Though it seems like the set is simple wooden platforms, spartan and utilitarian, it contains a certain je nais sais quoi. Britton Mauk’s scenery blends wonderfully with Paul Miller’s lighting design melding into a work of art.

Glorious colorful costumes by Claudia Brownlee, particularly in the African sequence and in Celie’s dress shop.

Christopher D. Betts did a fantastic job bringing “The Color Purple” into the full spectrum.

Go down to the Benedum and listen to this cast make joyful noises. Catch it quick, like all Pittsburgh CLO shows, its a limited engagement.


“The Color Purple” runs from June 25 to June 30 at the Benedum Theater and Concert Hall, 237 Seventh Street (at the corner of Seventh and Penn), Pittsburgh, PA 15222.  For more information, click here

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