Playhouse makes colorful return with ‘Purple’

YOUNGSTOWN — The title “The Color Purple” refers to how seeing the color purple in nature makes a person marvel at its beauty and believe in the existence of a higher power.

Watching Youngstown Playhouse’s production of “The Color Purple” Friday at Powers Auditorium, it’s impossible not to marvel at the talent in the Mahoning Valley.

There were more than enough big voices to fill that much-bigger theater for the community theater’s return to live performances.

Based on Alice Walker’s best-selling novel, it’s a joyous musical filled with misery and suffering. Director Trevail Maurice Smith, music director Mazhorell Johnson and the cast deftly walk that tightrope, not diminishing Celie’s pain and the abuse she endures, but also capturing the rousing spirit of the work.

A rundown of the musical highlights essentially would involve listing every song in the Brenda Russell / Allee Willis / Stephen Brae / Marsha Norman musical. (Ironically, a song list and soloists is the one thing noticeably lacking from the 48-page program.)

Mikayla Moore handles everything the role of Celie throws at her, from the indignities Celie suffers at the hands of her father and her husband to the strength and independence she develops in spite of those adversities. When that journey culminates with Moore’s performance of “I’m Here,” it deservingly received an extended ovation from the opening night crowd.

For a show seeped in gospel influence, its biggest showstopper may be the bawdy, juke joint romp “Push Da Button,” delivered with sultry swagger by Arielle Green as Shug Avery.

Nikita R. Jones arrives on stage like a force of nature as Sofia, a woman who refuses to be subservient to any man. She’s a powerhouse on “Hell No!” in the first act, and she teams in the second act with Wayne Bonner III as Harpo on “Any Little Thing,” where the only thing more enjoyable than the blend of their voices is the physical comedy they add to the number to sell the characters’ affection for one another.

James Major Burns, who’s brought so many comedic characters to life on local stages over the years, is a menacing presence here as Celie’s abusive husband, and he gets an impressive second-act showcase with “Mister’s Song – Celie’s Curse.”

And Cynthia Bryant, Lynette C. Frost-Brown, Janis Jones and Courtney Bailey frequently delight as a group of church ladies who serve as a Greek chorus on the action.

From the set design to the costumes, the Playhouse production borrows heavily from the 2015 Broadway revival and its tour. The lighting design by Ellen Licitra helped transform the minimalist set from a simple home to a juke joint and all the way to Africa.

There were occasional sound issues in the new space. A couple of performers had nonworking microphones, and the sound often was muddy on the full cast numbers. At least on the latter, the quality of the voices and the emotional force came through even when the actual lyrics were indecipherable.

After the success of Youngstown Playhouse’s “Dreamgirls,” which Smith directed in 2019, there were high expectations for “The Color Purple.” Friday’s performance more than met those expectations.

If you go …

WHAT: Youngstown Playhouse’s “The Color Purple”

WHEN: 2:30 p.m. today and Oct. 3 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

WHERE: Powers Auditorium, 260 W. Federal St., Youngstown

HOW MUCH: $30 and $25. Tickets are available online at deyorpac.org and by calling 330-259-9651.


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