In ‘Purple’, story is the star
By PUNCH SHAW
Special to the Star-Telegram
permalink to the post on Star-Telegram website
DALLAS — In the end, it is the story that prevails.
The Color Purple, a musical retelling of Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that opened at the Music Hall at Fair Park on Tuesday night, is an outstanding production in almost every regard. The cast is stellar, and the vocal work is especially first-rate, but no one forgets the acting chores, either.
Every visual detail — sets, lighting, costuming — is also right on the money. The music, by a committee of three, is solid and serviceable, and only occasionally rises above the ordinary. The quality of the singing in this production, however, elevates it.
But, while this show wows with its “big musical” trappings, it is ultimately Alice Walker’s vivid characters and heart-wrenching story that carry the day. Book author Marsha Norman has done a superb job of capturing the straight-to-the gut emotions of the source material. And, better still, she has peppered the show’s grim story of loss and oppression with just enough humor in just the right places.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that director Gary Griffin’s cast is led by three of the finest musical theater actresses to be found in one show.
It is hard to image anyone doing more with the central role of Celie than Jeannette Bayardelle. Her character moves from scared and beaten-down at the opening curtain to confident and empowered in the closing numbers. Tony nominee Felicia P. Fields provides the desperately needed comic relief for the show as Sofia. A more subtle performance is turned in by Angela Robinson as the Bessie Smith-like Shug Avery. She explores all of the corners of her complex, free-spirited character and sings up a storm in the process.
Mention must be made of LaToya London as Celie’s sister, Nettie. Many will remember that this AmericanIdol competitor of a few seasons back was championed by Elton John when she failed to win.The only real problem with this show is its length. Stretching two hours and 45 minutes, it really loses steam in the second of its two acts. It needs to be at least 30 minutes leaner. But fans of the Walker book or the movie will be delighted with this gorgeously mounted musical. Finally, don’t forget that this show takes place close enough to the State Fair of Texas to be able to smell the cotton candy. Traffic and parking can be issues.
The Color Purple Through Oct. 19
Music Hall, Fair Park, Dallas
8 p.m. Tues-Sun; 2 p.m. Sat-Sun
Run time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission
Be advised: There is little objectionable language, but this is a mature story unsuitable for preteens.
Best reason to go: Alice Walker
The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
‘Chaperone’ brings bygone stage musicals back to life
by Mark Lowry
View article on their website here
DALLAS — On its champagne-fizzy surface, The Drowsy Chaperone is a homage to the kind of musicals they just don’t make anymore.
But if you’re a true musical theater buff — you wouldn’t think of trading your vinyl copy of Pal Joey for 100 special-edition CDs of Wicked — then this love letter to the theater is so much more. And the vibrant, tremendously good tour at Fair Park Music Hall is bound to tickle you every shade of pink.
The show won five Tonys in 2006, and it’s easy to see why. It spoofs the broadly comic situations and sometimes perplexing lyrics of Jazz Age shows, and sets it up ingeniously.
A narrator, simply called Man in Chair (Jonathan Crombie), is home alone, about to play his double LP of one of his favorite musicals, a fictional one called The Drowsy Chaperone. As he does, the 1928 characters come to life in his apartment. He frequently pauses for asides about musicals, theater, intermissions and overly silly comic relief. And the more he drinks, the more he gets into it. And so do we.
The confection he loves so much centers on the decidedly uncomplicated plot of actress Janet Van De Graaff (Andrea Chamberlain), who will give up her career to marry the rich and dashing Robert (Mark Ledbetter). Satellite roles include the ditzy Mrs. Tottendale (Georgia Engle from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, reprising the role she played on Broadway), a tap-dancing best man (Richard Vida), the stereotypical Latin lover Adolpho (James Moye) and the tipsy-but-wise title character (Nancy Opel). They’re all fantastic, capturing that 1920s spirit.
Crombie is funny, sad and utterly real, immersing himself in the role of a man who would be lonely if not for his collection of cast recordings. If you’ve ever caught yourself singing along in the car — and in various character voices — to, say, A Little Night Music, then you’ll identify.
I, of course, know no one like that.
The Drowsy Chaperone
Through June 15
8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and June 8; 2 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and June 12
Fair Park Music Hall, 909 First Ave., Dallas
817-467-2787 or 214-631-2787; www.dallassummermusicals.org
Be advised: Nothing offensive
Runtime: 90 minutes, no intermission
Best reason to go: The show itself and this cast. Funny, energetic and moving.
Mark Lowry, 817-390-7747
Johnson’s show, which won a Tony Award this year and is directed by Murphy Cross and Paul Kreppel, played its first of eight performances at Dallas’ Majestic Theatre on Tuesday. Big D kicks off its national tour, fitting for a West Texas guy who went to the University of North Texas and spent many years performing here.
On a striking set (by Beowulf Boritt) of stacked trunks, suitcases and baskets on the horizontal and a swooped-up vertical floor, Johnson spends time with several of his pals, including a tennis ball named Spaulding, a loud, wiry monkey named Darwin, Nethernore the vulture, Amigo the snake and the disembodied head of Long John La Feat. Their voices are thrown by Johnson, some with superfast repartee between human and creation, and each is amazing.
His most special “wooden Americans” are his first major dummy, Squeaky, handcrafted by ventriloquism legend Arthur Sieving, and Bob, who was his puppet when he played a ventriloquist in the TV series Soap. Squeaky’s response when Johnson tells him that he wasn’t cast in Soap because he’s too sweet-looking is one of the show’s many priceless moments.
Johnson gets that misty-eyed, shaky voice when speaking nostalgically of Sieving, and in these segments the show almost becomes overly sentimental. But at the same time, it’s a sweet love letter to the art form. And by the end of The Two and Only!, we are convinced that what Johnson does is exactly that.
Jay Johnson: The Two and Only!8 p.m. through Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and SundayMajestic Theatre, 1925 Elm St., Dallas$15-$67817-467-2787 or 214-631-2787www.dallassummermusicals.org
Be advised: Some strong languageRun time: One hour, 35 minutes with no intermissionBest reason to go: The one and only Johnson