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The current national tour of the long-running Broadway musical THE COLOR PURPLE, produced by Phoenix Entertainment (Stephen B. Kane, executive producer, and Michael McFadden, artistic producer), will return to the Durham Performing Arts Center, in the American Tobacco District, for eight performances, starting on Tuesday, May 25th, and running through Sunday, May 30th. This marvelous musical-theater version of African-American author Alice Walker’s award-winning 1982 epistolary novel and the 1985 motion-picture version directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Whoopi Goldberg as Celie Johnson, Oprah Winfrey as Sofia, and Danny Glover as Mister (a.k.a. Albert Johnson) features a script by prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Grammy Award® winners Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray.

Set mostly in rural Georgia between the years of 1909 and 1949, THE COLOR PURPLE won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Alice Walker. Marsha Norman, who wrote the book for the musical, won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for ‘NIGHT, MOTHER and the 1991 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical and the 1991 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical for THE SECRET GARDEN.

“The musical is much closer to the book than it is in the movie,” claims Traci Allen, who plays Celie’s beloved sister and constant correspondent Nettie Harris, whose travels take her all the way to Africa. Allen adds, “There’s not one line in the musical that’s not in the book….

“One of the things that I love about the musical,” Allen says, “is that it explores the redemption of the character of Mister. You see him truly turn around and redeem himself as a person…. There are [also] subplots that are explored more in the musical than in the movie….

“But in the musical and in the movie, one thing that remains true is the theme of love, and finding the courage to love others and yourself,” says Traci Allen.

In addition to Trace Allen as Nettie, the second national tour of THE COLOR PURPLE stars Dayna Jarae Dantzler as Alice Walker’s long-suffering but ultimately triumphant heroine Celie Johnson; Pam Trotter as the iron-willed Sofia; Edward C. Smith as the mean-as-a-snake Mister; Lee Edward Colston II as Mister’s son and Sofia’s husband Harpo Johnson; Taprena Augustine as Mister’s mistress, the sultry chanteuse Shug Avery; Allison Semmes as Squeak; Deaun Parker, Virlinda Stanton, and Nesha Ward as Church Ladies Jarene, Darlene, and Doris, respectively; Phillip Brandon as Ol Mister and the Preacher; Keith Adams as Grady; Kadejah One as the Church Soloist; and Mark Hall as Pa. Adams and Hall are also part of the ensemble, which also includes Clotile Bonet, Julius C. Carter, Allyson Kaye Daniel, Tracie Franklin, Melanie L. Gaskins, Donald Jones Jr., Melana L. Lloyd, Christa Oliver, Keyon Powers, Christopher Sams, and Ashley Ware.

The 1985 motion-picture version of THE COLOR PURPLE, directed by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay by Menno Meyjes, starred Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, Willard E. Pugh as Harpo, Oprah Winfrey as Sofia, Danny Glover as Mister, Akosua Busia as Nettie, Rae Dawn Chong as Squeak, and Margaret Avery as Shug. The movie received eleven 1986 Academy Award® nominations, including nominations for Whoopi Goldberg as Best Actress in a Leading Role and Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey as Best Actress in a Supporting Role, as well as Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

The musical adaptation of THE COLOR PURPLE had its world premiere in March 2004 at The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, GA, under the direction of Gary Griffin. The show made its Broadway debut, directed by Gary Griffin and choreographed by Donald Byrd, on Dec. 1, 2005, at the Broadway Theatre, where it played 910 performances before closing on Feb. 24, 2008.

The original Broadway cast included LaChanze as Celie, Brandon Victor Dixon as Harpo, Felicia P. Fields as Sofia, Reneé Elise Goldsberry as Nettie, Kingsley Leggs as Mister, Krisha Marcano as Squeak, and Elisabeth Withers-Mendes made her Broadway Debut as Shug Avery. LaChanze won the 2006 Tony Award® for Best Actress in a Musical; and THE COLOR PURPLE received 10 other Tony nominations, including nominations for Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Book of a Musical.

Broadway director Gary Griffin and choreographer Donald Byrd have reprised their roles for the second national tour of THE COLOR PURPLE. Other members of the tour’s creative team include associate choreographer Stephanie Guiland-Brown, music director Jasper Grant, set designer John Lee Beatty, costume designer Paul Tazewell, hair designer Charles G. LaPointe, sound designer Craig Cassidy, and production stage manager Christopher Locklear. This touring production features orchestrations/arrangements by Steven M. Bishop and additional arrangements by Joseph Joubert.

Cast and crew for the current tour of THE COLOR PURPLE began rehearsals in this past February, says Traci Allen. She adds, “We rehearsed for three weeks in New York City. Then we had two weeks of technical rehearsals in Baltimore before we officially opened in March in Omaha, Nebraska.”

The 25-year-old actress, who was born in 1985 in Winston-Salem, NC and grew up there, says, “I started studying theater when I was in high school, and my senior year I went to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. I studied drama, and then I went on to Howard University in Washington, DC, to study theater arts.”

Allen earned her bachelor’s degree in theater arts from Howard University in 2007. “After that,” she says, “I moved to Minneapolis, where I had a year-long apprenticeship with the Children’s Theatre Company. After a year in Minnesota, I moved to Chicago and it was there that I auditioned for [the second national tour] THE COLOR PURPLE.”

She notes, “I find a lot of similarities between Nettie and myself. She’s truly benefited from the sacrifices of Celie. I’ve truly benefited from the sacrifices of generations past.” For example, Allen points out, “My grandmother had eight brothers and sisters, and all nine of them went to college.”

Traci Allen says, “Nettie is a huge advocate for education; she truly believes that knowledge is power.”

When asked to describe how the current tour of THE COLOR PURPLE differs from the original Broadway production and the first national tour, Allen doesn’t hesitate: “The most obvious difference is that there’s a brand-new cast. There’s a fresh take on each character. All of the lines and the music is the same, but you have a new person telling the story.”

Broadway director Gary Griffin and choreographer Donald Byrd are also part of the current tour’s creative team.

“If you saw a past production,” says Traci Allen, “there’s no reason that you won’t love this show. You may even love it more, because it’s been re-imagined by fresh faces.”

She adds, “I always say that the audience should just come [to see THE COLOR PURPLE] with an open heart and an open mind, and prepare to have a wonderful evening of theater. You may laugh, or you may cry. But prepare to be moved.”

SECOND OPINION: May 19th Durham, NC HERALD-SUN preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan:–THE-COLOR-PURPLE–BACK-FOR-ITS-SECOND-ACT?instance=main_article (NOTE: You must register first to read this article.)

The Durham Performing Arts Center presents THE COLOR PURPLE at 7 p.m. May 25, 7:30 p.m. May 26 and 27, 8 p.m. May 28, 2 and 8 p.m. May 29, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. May 30 at the DPAC, in the American Tobacco District, at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.

by Robert W. McDowell
Robert McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review of Raleigh, NC. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.E-mail RobertM748[at] to start your FREE subscription to this weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter.

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