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Songs sung blue

Current theater critic Tom Jenkins Curblogs again, this time re: The Color Purple, the novel/miniseries we said couldn't be musicalized:

The Color Purple -- a musicalization of Alice Walkerís Pulitzer-prize winning novel ó has some huge strengths: much of the cast remains intact from the musicalís Broadway run, and the physical design ó by John Lee Beatty ó is a beautiful, postcard-perfect evocation of the rural South. But even at over 165 minutes (!), thereís simply too much plot for a fully satisfying musical: the first hourís catalog of personal tragedies races by at breakneck speed ó if itís been eight minutes, itís time for another sexual assault! ó until you feel like youíre watching a list, not a plot. When the musical takes the time to luxuriate in a specific scene ó such as a tension-filled evening at a local bar ó the musical finally feels like a musical: staging, song, and plot all mesh. Otherwise, The Color Purple feels reverential, like a commentary on the novel rather than a free-standing work.

The music ó by a trio of popular writers ó is serviceable enough, but the demands of the plot usually mean a snippet here, a snippet there: few songs are allowed to really catch fire. The lesbian subtext, meanwhile, was met with a noticeably subdued response by Majestic patrons, which likely bodes ill for a pastiche musicalization of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

The eveningís far from a dud. The woman next to me actually started weeping, in contradistinction to my frosty, marble gaze. (Hell, I wonít even cry for Argentina, so perhaps Iím not the target audience for this type of show.) Obviously, itís connecting with audiences, and it has a strong social conscience, and Iíd much rather see this than the 20th tour of Cats.  Lastly, the chances of The Color Purple receiving a local remounting are pretty slim, so if youíre interested in what Oprah hath wrought, this handsome, talent-filled, yet ultimately flawed musical runs through Sunday downtown.

-- Thomas Jenkins

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 9/10/2008 4:21:41 PM
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