There’s been a rise in the popularity of the concert staging of musicals over recent years. It’s a great way to showcase the music from a show and to gage whether there is an appetite for a full-scale production.
Last night The British Theatre Academy presented The Color Purple, which after an acclaimed run at The Menier Chocolate Factory in 2013, recently completed a celebrated season on Broadway.
The charity gala was to raise money for young performers who cannot afford to train in performing arts and with the choir stalls packed to the gunnels with enthusiastic juvenile singers providing the ensemble backing, the importance of the cause was perfectly illustrated.
The Color Purple is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alice Walker and was made famous by the 1995 movie, which featured both Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in their film debuts. The story follows a young girl called Celie, who despite a tremendously traumatic life eventually finds solace and succeeds against all of the odds.
There is always a risk when presenting a musical without any staging that the story will get lost without context, but this version was at all times true to the central plot and the performers were able to carry the tale along at an elegant pace.
Finding a cast who can convey not only the essence of the era, but also the hugely emotional plot-line while stationary for the entire performance is not an easy task, but led by an utterly compelling display from Marisha Wallace as Celie, the team of West End stage stars performed an exceptional version of the musical.
Wallace is currently alternating with Amber Riley in Dreamgirls and if this performance is anything to go by, those visiting the Savoy Theatre will be far from disappointed. Vocally stunning, the singer gave a masterclass in acting through music and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after her rendition of “I’m Here”.
Rachel John as Shug was equally enthralling, showcasing her now well-known powerhouse vocals, while Seyi Omooba as Nettie proved she is a star of the future with a captivating performance. Tyrone Huntley was brilliantly buoyant as Harpo and Wendy Mae Brown brought some comedic sass as Sophia.
There were a few times when the sound balance was a little off, with the vast auditorium soaking up a little too much from the lead vocalists and some missed lighting cues, but as a one off concert, the odd technical issue is to be expected.
The heartwarming story and exquisite score make The Color Purple a simply sensational show. Performed by the cream of the crop in the beautiful Cadogan Hall this was a remarkable and memorable concert and I hope producer Danielle Tarento will consider putting together fully staged version in London in the not too distant future.
Reviewed by Jon White
Photo: Scott Rylander