(Photo Credit: Alon Amir)
(“The Color Purple” trailer courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
If moviegoers watch a remake of a classic movie and never think about the original or the original cast, then that group of actors have accomplished an amazing feat.
Adding another element or different vibe, while keeping classic components, will often further cement the remake and give it a life of its own.
And because of Fantasia Barrino’s tour du force performance as Celie, the musical version of “The Color Purple,” based on the Broadway play, will produce new fans and fanfare for the Alice Walker classic novel.
Life for African-American women has never been a crystal stair to paraphrase another literary giant, Langston Hughes.
In the early 20th century, African-American women dealt with racism from the dominant White power structure.
Those women also dealt with sexism from the patriarchal power structure.
And many African-American women dealt with even harsher treatment and more oppression for the abusive men in their life.
For young girls like Celie, they had to find refuge wherever they could find it.
In “The Color Purple,” Young Celie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi) finds refuge in true sisterhood.
She shares an unshakable bond with her sister Young Nettie (Halle Bailey, “The Little Mermaid”), despite their different life experiences.
While Nettie is the pretty, desirable and popular sister who is treated correctly by the men in her life, Celie gets the opposite treatment.
Because some men find her less attractive and less smart, Celie faces abuse at every turn from her father Alfonso (Deon Cole, “You People”) to her husband Mister (Colman Domingo, “Passing Strange”).
Celie’s marriage to Mister is abusive as well because he had his eye set on Nettie.
But since Alfonso is not willing to give Mister Nettie’s hand in marriage, Mister settles for Celie in exchange for some livestock.
The abuse only intensifies when Celie becomes the matriarch of Mister’s family, cleaning his house, fixing his meals, shaving his face and raising his children.
Despite the loneliness and unhappiness of married life, Celie can still find respite in her relationship with Nettie.
However, when Nettie comes to live with Mister and Celie and Mister acts inappropriately with Nettie, Mister banishes Nettie from his house and basically ends the sisterly bond that the two young women share.
With no one around her that loves her and no guarantee for a brighter day, does Celie drift further into darkness and despair?
Or does she find love from others and love for herself that will help her overcome all the obstacles, hatred and abuse that she has dealt with her entire life?
Hopefully, what Celie finds is a true sisterhood that extends far beyond blood and family ties to replace her relationship with Nettie.
The story behind “The Color Purple” is well-known for any movie fan that was of age in 1985 when the Steven Spielberg original was released, which starred Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, Danny Glover as Mister and Oprah Winfrey as Sofia.
While the 1985 version made stars out of the virtually unknown cast, the 2023 musical fills those roles with iconic talent like Taraji P. Henson as Shug Avery, David Alan Grier as Rev. Avery, Louis Gossett Jr. as Ol’ Mister, Tamela J. Mann as Rev. Avery’s First Lady and Jon Batiste as Grady.
When the original was casted, Rae Dawn Chong, who played Squeak, was the biggest name before the movie dropped.
In “The Color Musical,” songstress H.E.R. portrays Squeak.
After the release of the 1985 version, Winfrey, Glover and Goldberg became household names, all later becoming icons.
“The Color Purple” basically made them superstars.
Nevertheless, the star power in “The Color Purple” musical does not take away from the actual characters.
In some movies, no matter what character an actor plays, moviegoers see the actor and not the character.
However, a great actor will eventually become unrecognizable as the movie progresses and in the minds of moviegoers, they morph into the character they portray.
And great performances will not make the new version unrecognizable.
But the instant classic musical performances with great voices like Barrino, Mann, Bailey and H.E.R. will breathe new life into a 40-year-old story.
As a result, filmmaker Blitz Bazawule creates a “The Color Purple” that is a great marriage of uniqueness with classic quotes from the original.
While the all-star cast of “The Color Purple” does not take away from the iconic characters, the casting in the musical version of Walker’s famous novel could not have been much better.
The film features some of the most talented people to every grace a screen or stage.
Henson is one of the greatest actresses of her day.
And with her natural sass, pizzaz and charisma, she plays the legendary Shug Avery darn near to perfection.
Additionally, while not on the level of Mann or Barrino, Henson can definitely hold her own as a singer.
She did so in “Hustle and Flow” back in the day also.
But the star of the musical is obviously Barrino.
The singer from North Carolina has experienced enough ups and downs to sing from the depths of her soul, beautifully painting a picture of Celie’s pains with lyrics.
While other American idol alums have had many opportunities to shine on the big screen like Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson, now it is Barrino’s time to shine.
In Walker’s novel, she would write letters to God that began… “Dear God.”
Well, many say that God is always on time.
And if fans of the original “The Color Purple” give the musical a chance, they too will say that Barrino’s time is definitely now.
And her true time in the spotlight is just beginning.