Amitria Fanae and Cerina Johnson sit on the prop stage set upon the actual stage at Cape Fear Regional Theatre. It has wide boards that make up a very inornate platform. The background of the stage is plain and minimalist, hinting toward the poverty and rural area in which the play is set.
Fanae kicks her legs out rapidly and tucks her head in as she smiles. Her feet are tucked into ankle-high brown boots. Fanae looks up, laughs and then connects arms with Johnson. The two break out into a simple children’s song. Fanae portrays a naive, young teenager perfectly. Celie has come to life before the audience’s eyes, and she is endearing.
Alice Walker’s famous novel-turned-musical, “The Color Purple,” has hit the stage at Cape Fear Regional Theatre this month. According to director Brian Harlan Brooks, the play is about a journey inward — one that many of the characters in this play take and one the audience themselves can take alongside them. This journey is full of boisterous musical numbers with amazing voices to match. The actors do not disappoint in their singing and musical talents; deep gospel-like tones are mixed throughout the entire play. Each song transforms the audience, bringing them to a place where music communicates without the need for much else. Both the songs sung by the entire company and single actors were glorious and felt rich in depth.
One of the best songs is “Hell No,” sung by Melvinna Rose Johnson, who played Sophia. In this song, Sophia describes the treatment that will not happen to her and the oppression she won’t allow. Her will is strong.
Johnson played her part well and gave the audience a lot of comedic relief through her potent display of a character with a who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are attitude and a stern but loving quality. She was captivating and mesmerizing to watch as she completely overtook the character. The audience falls in love with Sophia almost instantly.
Cerina's portrayal of a humble, abused and naive young girl is broken free by her louder-than-life voice and confident portrayal of a woman who is transformed. There is another fantastic performance by Fanae when she sings, “I’m Here.” In the moment, everyone in the room is proud of Celie and her ability to overcome and find within herself all that she ever needed.
These two characters were perfectly balanced by their counterparts, including Harpo and Shug Avery, played by Herbert White II and Toneisha Harris, respectively. White was a joy to watch and matched Sophia well with tidbits of comedic relief during the serious topics discussed during the play. Each time he took the stage, the audience waited in suspense to see what his next line or movement might be. Harris really steps into the role as the sexy, free-spirited Shug and has an intensely beautiful voice that fills the entire theatre.
The downside to this play was the occasional inability to understand the words being sung. This may have been a one-time sound issue but was still distracting during portions of the play. However, the beautiful, poetic music often overpowered the occasional inability to understand all the words of each song.
Towards the end of the play, the background will become a vibrant display of color and transform just as the character Celie has, and the audience may find themselves in a different place than where they started.
“The Color Purple” will run until May 29. Tickets are on sale at cftr.org. This play is rated M for mature due to references of a sexual nature and discussion of abuse.