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The Color Purple, The Musical

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by Donna Sue Robson (subscribe)
Donna Sue Robson specialises in the communication- and healing-arts. Jamie Natural Health and Healing is her energy-healing consultancy. Her modalities, workshops and boutique natural products can be viewed and purchased from www.jamienatural.com.
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A story that touches the soul & music that reaches the heart
The Color Purple The Musical Chapel Off Chapel Stage Art Jayme-Lee Hanekom Thando Sikwila Robbie Carmellotti
The Color Purple, The Musical, features an all-Australian cast and is artfully directed by Robbie Carmellotti. The show combines the scriptwriting sensitivities of Marsha Norman with the musical and lyrical brilliance of Stephen Bray, Brenda Russell and Allee Willis.


The Australasian premier of The Color Purple, The Musical, played to a full house last Saturday October 15th at Chapel-Off-Chapel. Generation X loved the 1985 film and with Alice Walker's epic novel now a part of the VCE syllabus, Millenniums have also become devotees. An audience that spanned generations was excited to see how their beloved Color Purple had been converted to musical-theatre. Melbourne's-own Jayme-Lee Hanekom, who plays the lead role of Celie, brought the crowd to their feet.

It is rare for a story be elevated and proclaimed as a Holy Trinity: The Color Purple won a Pulitzer Prize in 1982 for best novel, Stephen's Spielberg's film was nominated for an Oscar in 1985 and the current Broadway production won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. It is clear from such critical acclaim that each adaptation is creatively and technically outstanding, but it is the sheer strength and poignancy of the story that makes The Color Purple so compelling and universally loved.

The Color Purple The Musical Chapel Off Chapel Stage Art Jayme-Lee Hanekom Thando Sikwila Robbie Carmellotti
The Color Purple is a story that needs to be told again and again.Thando Sikwila delivers a comic yet powerful portrayal of Shug Avery and deserves critical acclaim.


The Color Purple transcends the powerful chronicle of America's reconciliation with slavery and women's enslavement: it is a story to which anyone who has endured or been subjugated to dominance and control can relate. The story has inbuilt levels and layers that have grown with cultural maturation and time. For example, the love relationship between Celie and Shug Avery was made clearer in the musical as now, society has broadened its view of sexuality and same-sex relationships. The story is so much more than one woman's struggle against sexism, racism and classism: it is a story of transformation as Celie comes to understand her faith and rises to embody her true spirit that life-long abuse had almost destroyed.

Celie is a black American woman from the South, born only two generations after the abolition of slavery. Her life and community, crippled by collective trauma, is defined by chronic poverty, inequality, injustice, violence and sexual exploitation. Even though Celie knows grace and loves God, she understood faith as 'doing God's will and enduring whatever life dished out'. Over time, her passive spirituality comes of age through the passion of sisterhood. As Celia is reconnected with love and family, The Color Purple resounds with hope, forgiveness and soul.

The Color Purple The Musical Chapel Off Chapel Stage Art Jayme-Lee Hanekom Thando Sikwila Robbie Carmellotti
The Color Purple, The Musical, is a brilliant piece of story-telling that uses theatrical symbolism and musical genius to shine a light on women who have blazed trails and created powerful legacies for their families and communities.The harmonics of Nette and Celie authenticated their sisterly love and is yet another reason for the musical's universal appeal.


The music tells us how it is: from the age of 12, motherless Celie had been regularly raped and beaten by her step-father. By 14, she had birthed two of his children who were immediately surrendered and sent to a mission in Africa. Soon after, Celie was virtually sold into marriage - along with the family cow - to an older man whose idea of a wife was akin to a owning a slave. Nettie, Celia's younger sister whom she had always protected, had to leave town to escape their step-father's beatings and Celia's own lecherous husband. Within 10 minutes, Celie's life was revealed as one of incest, rape, brutality, slavery, abuse, poverty, humiliation, abandonment and entrapment. Music tells the story, forever linking layers, love and relationships. Much of the endearing beauty of the Color Purple is in the resilience and integrity of the four leading women, Celia, Shug Avery, Sofia and Nettie. Each inspired each other and the audience is witness to the ascent of 20th Century feminism.

I remember the Whoopi Goldberg cinematic classic for its quite shocking graphic violence. Brutality and the culture of violence was pivotal to the film's story line and character development. The Color Purple, The Musical, however, lets the music tell the story, often through lament and the grief that is inherent in soul and blues. It is a sensitive treatment that is emotionally powerful and intensely personal. This is a musical with first-class composition. It has pace, holds drama and connects audiences to the heart of Celia.

Ragtime, blues and gospel give us colour. We can feel Afro-American culture through these melodies and rhythms. Strong beats are echoed through lyrical dialogue as well as actors' accents and their precise accentuation. Transitions between song and speech are virtually seamless. Music kept the story on track, pushed it forward and yet created forks in the road that gave the show contrast, complexity and historical context. Music collides events with emotions which perpetuates the feeling that Celie herself is a victim on a treadmill from which she may never escape.

The Color Purple, The Musical is a watershed in lyrical story-telling. A story that spans four decades and two continents, the score uses jazz, R&B as well as African music to give the story time-place focus. When the narrative changed, so did the music. By using music in this way, it meant that defining time and place- which were potentially complex and problematic could be handled symbolically. The staging of The Color Purple was sophisticated and credited the audience with intelligence. It was refreshing to be able to interpret the layers of this epic with minimal suggestion and yet clear musical guidance.

The Color Purple The Musical Chapel Off Chapel Stage Art Jayme-Lee Hanekom Thando Sikwila Robbie Carmellotti
The Color Purple follows the life and struggles of Celie, played by Melbourne's-own Jayme-Lee Hanekom. There is no doubt that Jayme-Lee inspired a standing ovation on opening night.


Vocally, Jayme-Lee (who also played Nala in Disney's 2005 Lion King) is powerful, exhibiting a breadth of emotion that is chilling. She carries this maturity and skill level through to her dramatic actor role. Thando Sikwila, who may be remembered from 2014 The Voice, delivered a comic yet powerful portrayal of Shug Avery and also deserves critical acclaim. When paired together, their songs and duets tear at the heart strings. Vanessa Menjiva was blessed with the brilliant character role of the formidable Sophia and delivered a performance that would make Oprah Winfrey proud, and Anna Francesca Armenia's voice (Nette) was haunting in its beauty. The harmonics of Nette and Celie authenticated their sisterly connection and love that makes The Color Purple so uplifting. Extraordinary vocalist Noelani Petero (Doris) had the honour of opening the show, and forming an almost narrative trio with Sasaha Hennequin (Darlene) and Anisha Senarante (Jarene), created one of the most enjoyable vocal ensembles in Australian musical theatre. Color Purple's male vocalists are also gifted and revelled in choice arrangements that showcased their complete musicianship.

The Color Purple, The Musical, is magnificent and mesmerising and cast performances credit the directorship of Robbie Carmellotti. It is a watershed in musical theatre and offers an amazing opportunity to showcase home-grown talent. There was never any doubt that The Color Purple, The Musical, would receive a standing ovation.

The Color Purple The Musical Chapel Off Chapel Stage Art Jayme-Lee Hanekom Thando Sikwila Robbie Carmellotti
Chapel-off-Chapel is the perfect venue for The Color Purple, a milestone in Australian musical theatre. The musical has been nominated for 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score.


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Why? To make a booking
When: Nights and Weekend Matinees
Phone: 03 82907000
Where: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Cost: From $49
Your Comment
Sounds like a wonderful show, Donna!
by Elaine (score: 3|7369) 1364 days ago
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