The informal rule of casino-housed production shows is that they last 90 minutes and have no intermission—primarily to minimize time away from gambling. The Smith Center for the Performing Arts has no such obligation. And right on cue, I had a few Pavlovian fidgets 90 minutes into the 145-minute musical (not counting the 15-minute intermission) The Color Purple. But whenever my muscles twitched, the fantastic performance pulled me back in. (Blame my Vegas frame of reference if I saw a little Cirque in the tribal dancing and a little House of Blues gospel brunch in the ensemble songs.)
The Color Purple was the perfect choice for launching The Smith Center’s Broadway series. Sure, I had a little trepidation before the curtains went up. The show just seemed so … literary. The source material, a novel of the same name, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. But I needn’t have worried. The musical turned out to be joyous and fun, comical and sexy (especially the juke joint scenes).
But here’s the kicker: That literary pedigree gave The Color Purple one hell of a narrative backbone—it follows the life of Celie, a poor, repressed and abused 14-year-old girl in Depression-era Georgia who blooms into a self-possessed woman. The story’s emotional depth counterbalanced the show’s ear-candy to offer a delightful experience and the best of both worlds. ★★★★☆