‘The Color Purple’ at Signature Theatre: An Emotional Performance With a Story and Music That Will Grab Your Heartstrings

Nora Y. Payton as Cellie in “The Color Purple” (All images by Christopher Mueller)

ARLINGTON -VA – The power of “The Color Purple” is its deeply poignant story of a woman who suffers both abuse and triumph hidden deep inside a culture rife with racism, sexism and poverty. Based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, this searing musical drama etched its spot in the pantheon of great Broadway musicals by earning a Tony Award in 2016, and again in 2017, when it garnered a Grammy for “Best Musical Album.” Its soaring gospel sounds and sweet. Emotionally- laden ballads grasp at your heartstrings. The story of a child bride fighting for survival in an abusive marriage in the Deep South, speaks to humanity about where we can find love and how we seek truth in the face of adversity. Although set in 1909, we can still recognize these -isms through the rise of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter.

Torrey Linder as Mister in “The Color Purple.”

The story of 14-year-old Celie, whose only close relationship is with her sister Nettie, unveils a tortured child without agency, who has been given in marriage to a cruel man who belittles and abuses her, a repeat of her relationship with her father. Played beautifully by noted actress and singer Nova Y. Payton, who clones a girl locked in a world without love or self-worth, until Shug Avery, a jive club singer comes to stay. Shug, an independent woman whose steamy sexuality reflects her independence, has a hold on Celie’s husband Mister – right smack dab under Celie’s nose. Shug moves in and renews her relationship with him. What Mister doesn’t bargain for is Shug’s amorous feelings for Celie.

Directed by Timothy Douglas, this crack cast includes two Nigerian actors, three actors hot off the recent smash hit “Grace,” and a strong supporting cast who inhabit their roles like buds on a tree. (A simile that will have relevance in the final act.) The strength of their performances – wonderfully in synch – reflect mightily on Douglas’s direction and his passion for the story.

Danielle J. Simmons as Shug Avery and Torrey Linder as Mister in “The Color Purple.”

Tony Cisek’s stark set design resembles a weathered wooden cabin replete with barn boards that operate like the slats of a window blind, to reveal when opened, the characters in silhouette or in bright light situated on two levels. Peter Maradudin‘s lighting enhances the dramatic moments in cool blues and fiery reds, as when Celie’s sister, son, and daughter return from Africa and there is a magical African drumming and dancing scene that adds to Dane Figueroa Eddi’s fabulous choreography. Solomon Parker III, as Mister’s son Harpo, does double duty as the Dance Captain and you can’t help but thrill to his cool style of laidback crossed with hopped up, jumpin’ and jivin’ moves.

The show’s memorable songs by Allee WillisStephen Bray, and Brenda Russell are sung by an excellent ensemble who present this complex crystallization of life-on-the-edge-of-nothing with blues, gospel, and ballads intricately woven into this tender tapestry.  “I’m Here,” Celie’s redemptive ballad is the moment where Payton shows the power of her singular voice. Shug’s notable red hot mama number “Push Da Button”, Mister’s “Mister’s Song” (Torrey Linder kills it!), and “Hell No!” by Sofia and the Women are guaranteed to thrill audiences.

The cast of “The Color Purple” at Siganture Theatre

With Kaiyla Gross as Nettie; Danielle J. Summons as Shug Avery; Temiday o Amay as Squeak; Jalisa Williams as Jarene; Gabrielle Rice as Doris; Nia Savoy-Dock as Darlene; Keenan McCarter as Pa; Stephawn P. Stephens as Preacher/Ol’ Mister; Torrey Linder as Mister; Frenchie Davis as Sofia; Tobias A. Young as Buster; Sean-Maurice Lynch as Adam; Raquel Jennings as Olivia; Ian Anthony Coleman as Guard/Bobby and Fight Captain.

Book by Marsha Norman; Costume Design by Kara Harman; Sound Design by Ryan Hickey; Musical Direction by Mark G. Meadows; Conducted by Angie Benson.

Highly recommended!

Through October 9th at 4200 Campbell Avenue in Shirlington Village, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 820-9771 or visit

This article has been updated.


Jordan Wright

Jordan Wright is a noted publisher and writer focused on food, spirits, travel, theatre and lifestyles.  Her writing can also be found on her personal website

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