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 Walker's Pulitzer-prize winning novel â?? has some huge strengths: much of the cast remains intact from the musical's Broadway run, and the physical design â?? by John Lee Beatty â?? is a beautiful, postcard-perfect evocation of the rural South. But even at over 165 minutes (!), there's simply too much plot for a fully satisfying musical: the first hour's catalog of personal tragedies races by at breakneck speed â?? if it's been eight minutes, it's time for another sexual assault! â?? until you feel like you're watching a list, not a plot. When the musical takes the time to luxuriate in a specific scene â?? such as a tension-filled evening at a local bar â?? 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 â?? by a trio of popular writers â?? 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 evening's far from a dud. The woman next to me actually started weeping, in contradistinction to my frosty, marble gaze. (Hell, I won't even cry for Argentina, so perhaps I'm not the target audience for this type of show.) Obviously, it's connecting with audiences, and it has a strong social conscience, and I'd 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 you're interested in what Oprah hath wrought, this handsome, talent-filled, yet ultimately flawed musical runs through Sunday downtown.

-- Thomas Jenkins

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