Audience members could not contain themselves at the National Theatre production of Alice Walker’s novel “The Color Purple.” The house was filled with laughter and tears as the trials of Celie, an oppressed African American woman in the early 19th century, were spelled out through song and dance.
Dayna Jarae Dentzler, who played Celie, is the ideal female lead. She was a bold actress who was comedic when necessary, and yet could still give the audience chills when she belted her final solo “I’m Here.”
When the famous line, “You sure is ugly” was said by the character Shug Avery, the audience yelled it louder than the actors on stage. The cast and audience relationship worked like someone preaching to the choir, with the actors feeding off the upfront emotions of the viewers.
While the acting and dancing were truly impeccable, the singing was not quite up to par. The men in the cast were simply not strong vocalists, along with Traci Allen, who played the character of Nettie. There was no excuse for the poor vocals of the male ensemble members who entered the stage, regardless of how much the women in the audience cat called and distracted them.
Lil’ Mo, a D.C. local celebrity and hip-hop radio station personality on WPGC-95.5 FM, is featured in the cast as the “church soloist.” She saved the vocals of the show, belting out a few solo numbers in addition to lending vocals to ensemble pieces. Although much of the audience had no idea who Lil’ Mo was, her performance was enjoyable.
The three church ladies, played by DeAun Parker, Virlinda Stanton and Nesha Ward, were the ominous mother figures that popped in and out of scenes and sang short numbers commenting on the scene that just occurred. They were quite humorous and the audience was kept wondering when they would pipe back up.
“The Color Purple” will be at the National Theatre for the next two weeks and is a worthwhile outing. The setting and lighting are beautiful. If you’re not familiar with the book, the film or the play, it’s about time you get acquainted with Alice Walker’s best achievement to date.