The story follows the struggles of Celie, a young, pregnant black girl separated from her sister Nettie. The cruelties that Celie endures doesn’t seem like a story that would lend itself to a musical, but the plot provides plenty of drama and room for interpretation.
The 29-track cast recording is a mix of gospel, blues and jazz tunes all performed with the expected Broadway bravado. No matter what genre the individual songs may fall into, the music never strays too far from its original purpose of being a show tune.
The Color Purple outshines many musicals because of its strong cast.
LaChanze (Celie), Elisabeth Withers-Mendes (Shug Avery) and Kingsley Leggs (Mister) elevate the material with outstanding performances. Highlights include Withers-Mendes singing "Too Beautiful For Words," which makes for the prettiest two minutes on the CD. After that tender ballad, she turns around and vamps the bluesy "Push Da Button," one of the show’s freshest numbers.
LaChanze and Withers-Mendes duet on "What About Love?," the musical’s power ballad.
Kimberly Ann Harris, Virginia Ann Woodruff and Maia Nkenge Wilson are winning as the Church Ladies, who have no shortage of opinions and help fill in some of the backstory with their energetic songs.
The Color Purple is well performed, and the music is enjoyable, offering just enough big, soaring numbers in between slower, smaller moments to create a rich, satisfying production. Extensive liner notes help listeners follow the story, which stretches over 40 years.
The music and lyrics are by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.
Oprah Winfrey, who appeared in movie version of the story, produced the Broadway show.