Wednesday evening December 16th, sitting in Row C Mezzanine seat 106, gazing down at the barn-like unit set (John Doyle) with a multitude of what looked like left over straight backed chairs from the debacle Dr. Zhivago hanging on wooden pegs I felt an ominous pall set over me even though I had seen Fantasia as Celie in an earlier revival and I loved her and admired the show and was looking forward to this scaled down version directed by the aforementioned John Doyle. Unfortunately it left me cold.
Immediately I had trouble hearing what was being said on stage. In fact, I got about fifteen lines of clear dialogue and some lyrics – straining throughout to concentrate. What’s going on with the sound designed by Gregory Clarke?
Almost impossible to figure out who was speaking and what they were saying. Luckily not everyone. Harpo (a put upon Kyle Scatliffe) and Sofia (a tough and dynamic Danielle Brooks) stood out as being comprehensible.
I spoke with friends who were seated in another part of the mezzanine at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre the next night at A View From The Bridge and they too had problems – as did other patrons around them. During intermission one went to speak with the mixer at the rear of the orchestra and was told point blank “There’s nothing I can do about it.” Really? Well something ought to be done about it as it absolutely ruined the production for me. That and a few other things.
The episodic book by Marsha Norman based on the novel by Alice Walker and the score by a trio of folks: Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray isn’t first rate. But the story is. And I believe that three quarters or more of the women in the audience identified with the downtrodden Celie – who is abused and treated like dirt enacted here by the diminutive, contained and sympathetic Cynthia Erivo until she discovers her true self and rises far above her dire circumstances with the help of Sofia and her sister Nettie (Joaquina Kalukango) and Shug Avery (a less than stellar Jennifer Hudson whom she falls in love with) – as they hooted and hollered when she finally experiences her breakthrough moment in one of the many American Idol moments of the show that cover’s forty years. Could’ve fooled me. Time stood still in this production.
Getting back to the sound issue. It seems that the mezzanine is the most difficult section of the house to get the sound perfect. This tidbit from an expert in the field. Perhaps the producers should sit up there to have a listen first hand. Or perhaps it was just an off evening. In any event it did not help me enjoy this ultra-stylized production.
Despite my carping THE COLOR PURPLE is a life lesson of faith – of never giving up, of standing up for yourself and never letting someone beat you down. It’s a complicated epic story that can be extremely moving and ultimately uplifting. Under different circumstances.
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