With its gifted cast, ‘The Color Purple’ at Signature is a heartfelt hit

This production has earned its place as one of the best in the DC area.

The Color Purple is quite the closer for Signature Theatre’s return season. Directed by Timothy Douglas with choreography by Dane Figuroa Edidi and music direction by Mark G. Meadows, this production has earned its place as one of the best in the DC area. This is due in large part to the talented Black cast who bring the characters from Alice Walker’s classic 1982 novel to life.

Nova Y. Payton (Celie) and the cast of ‘The Color Purple’ at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

The plot focuses on the ups and downs of life in a rural Black community in Georgia at the beginning of the 20th century—barely a generation removed from enslavement. Walker’s novel, as well as the original 2005 Broadway adaptation, follows the life of Celie. Celie is easily one of the best characters to emerge from any literary work in the past 100 years, primarily because her story feels so real. The arc of Celie’s life begins tragically and resolves through her determination to seize the life that she know she deserves.

Nova Y. Payton as Celie is incredible. If you see this show for no other reason than to see her performance, you will have a good time. Payton’s acting hammers out the Celie that we start off with—hunched over and terrified of the abusive men around her, with her personality curled up deep inside of her for fear of being crushed. Act Two Celie is a different woman altogether. Payton embodies the healing that occurs later in the narrative as if she’s lit up from the inside. Her delivery of “I’m Here” is nothing short of iconic.

Solomon Parker III (Harpo) and Frenchie Davis (Sofia) in ‘The Color Purple’ at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

It’s clear that many of the cast members found the thread in these characters that they could connect to and plugged right in, whether that thread is one of joy or sorrow (or both). Frenchie Davis is particularly charming as Sofia. Her comedic timing is spot-on and it’s enjoyable to see her chemistry with Harpo, played by Solomon Parker III—another standout among a cast full of them.

Songs like the Sofia-centric “Hell No!” showcase the versatility of the cast, who have to hold levity and tragedy together throughout the musical. Church ladies Jarene (Jalisa Williams), Doris (Gabrielle Rice), and Darlene (Nia Savoy-Dock) provide the snide and gossipy commentary you’d expect throughout. You can’t help but be moved by the delivery of “The Color Purple” by the lead cast with the full ensemble—you could have knocked me over with a feather, as Celie would say.

Dane Figuroa Edidi’s creative and engaging choreography gets good play at Harpo’s juke joint during “Push Da Button.” Dance also shines during “African Homeland,” which provides a visually spectacular launch into Act Two. Kara Harmon’s costume design is primarily composed of neutrals and pastels, but it pulls in louder elements for the traditional African dress and for Shug Avery’s disruptions. Scenic Designer Tony Cisek delivers a deceptively simple stage for the duration. I won’t give away all the secrets, but the set itself becomes progressively more engaging as the show develops.

Danielle J. Summons (Shug Avery), Torrey Linder (Mister), and the cast of ‘The Color Purple’ at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

The arrival of the libertine Shug Avery (Danielle J. Simmons) provides the catalyst for the turning point in Celie’s life. While the vocals during “What About Love?” are as satisfying as you’d expect, I found the blocking for this scene to be somewhat baffling. Shug and Celie hardly touch each other, and spend most of the number on opposite sides of the stage. It struck me as a little gun-shy for no particular reason. Perhaps I’m a bit sensitive to this as a queer woman. While the scene does communicate tentativeness, it didn’t really stick the landing for me.

At any rate, you will regret missing The Color Purple if you let it pass you by. I’m fairly sure this show will be the talk of the town for the duration of its run—and for good reason! This cast is truly gifted and not to be missed. I will say, with as much theater as I’ve seen in this area, this is the first time I’m seen such an enthusiastic a standing ovation after a song. Signature Theatre’s latest offering is heartfelt and highly recommended.

Running Time: Two hours 35 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Color Purple plays through October 9, 2022, at Signature Theatre’s
MAX Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue in Arlington, VA. For tickets ($40–$108), call (703) 820-9771 or purchase onlineInformation about ticket discounts is available here.

The program for The Color Purple is online here.
Closed captions are available for every show via the GalaPro app.

COVID Safety: Signature requires all attendees ages 6 and up (Signature does not admit children under 6) to wear a mask to attend all live public performances and events at indoor venues. Signature’s COVID safety plans can be found here.

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