Join NLT for 66th season opening

Published 12:07am Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Natchez Little Theatre, Mississippi’s oldest community theatre, celebrating 81 years of entertainment, is proud to open its 66th Season with the beloved Broadway musical, “The Color Purple.” Based upon the novel “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker and the Warner Brothers/Amblin Entertainment motion picture, the show features music and lyrics written by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, with a book by Marsha Norman.

“The Color Purple” opened on Broadway in 2005, at the Broadway Theatre produced by Oprah Winfrey, Scott Sanders, Roy Furman and Quincy Jones and has been touring throughout the United States. The Broadway production earned eleven 2006 Tony Awards nominations and closed in 2008, after 940 performances. The world premiere of The Color Purple was produced by the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.

As the story begins in 1909, Young Celie, played by Patricia Ware, is 14 years old and pregnant for the second time and is playing with her beloved sister Nettie, played by Cheleen Sugar. While attending church with their Pa, played by Royal Hill, Jr., Young Celie goes into labor. Later, Pa takes the baby from her arms, saying he is going to get rid of it same as the last one and that she better not tell anyone except God what happened.

A few years later, when a local farmer, Mister, played by Terrence Robinson, needs a wife to take care of his children, Pa says Nettie is too young but offers him Celie, played by Alethea Shelton, instead. Nettie arrives one day having fled Pa’s lecherous attentions and asks if she can stay. Mister agrees, but then attacks Nettie on her way to school. When she fights back, she is thrown off the property and vows to write to Celie, but Mister won’t allow Celie to touch the mailbox.

Mister’s son, Harpo, played by Mario J. Radford, grows up and soon brings home Sofia, played by Tema Larry, a proud strong-willed woman, whom he loves and marries. Harpo tires of being bossed around by Sofia and tries to beat her, but Sofia gives as good as she gets and leaves with her sisters and Harpo turns his home into a juke joint.

The whole town prepares for the arrival of Shug Avery, played by Brittany Mitchell, a sexy singer who is Mister’s longtime lover. Shug arrives in bad shape and Mister brings her home where Celie nurses her back to health. As Celie takes care of Shug, she begins to experience feelings of affection and tenderness for the first time, as Shug befriends her. In Mister’s house, Shug and Celie explore their newfound love for each other. Shug gives Celie a letter she found from Africa and Celie recognizes the handwriting as Nettie’s.

Shug gives Celie all Nettie’s letters that Mister had hidden over the years, and she learns that Nettie traveled to Africa with a missionary couple who had adopted Celie’s two babies. Meanwhile, in Georgia, Sofia has been beaten and thrown in jail for punching the Mayor, played by Mike Thomas, when she refused to be the Mayor’s wife’s maid. She is released into the custody of the Mayor’s wife, played by Morgan Mizell, thus becoming her maid. Twelve years later, Sofia and Shug both return home for Easter. Shug and her new husband Grady, played by Benta’ Thomas, invite Celie to return to Memphis with them and Celie leaves with them putting a curse on Mister before she leaves.

At Shug’s house, Celie discovers that she has a gift for making pants and returns to Georgia when she inherits the house she grew up in and her Pa’s store. Back home, Celie sees that Mister has tried to make amends for his wrongdoings and is helping Harpo and Sofia with their youngest, Henrietta, played by Jasmine Jackson. In 1949, the community gathers at Sofia’s for a picnic, and Mister and Shug have arranged for Nettie and Celie’s two grown children to return from Africa and everyone is reunited!

This stellar cast includes Hope Knight as Squeak; Lisa Lewis, Taji Henyard and Shemeka Ware as the hilarious town gossips, Darlene, Doris and Jarene; along with a community of eccentrics played with aplomb by Richaye Curtis, Shabilla Adams, Beverly Adams, Vontina Barfield, Morgan Baskin, Spencer Adams, Samuel Fields, Damien Henderson, DeMichael Queen, Caleb Curtis, Elvin Frye, Leslie Lewis, Stacey Carden, Lee Dellinger and Lindsey Lewis.

I am proud to direct the talented African-American cast with such talented assistance from musical director Roderick Whitley, who makes NLT’s cast sound better than the Broadway cast recording, and Alethea Shelton, who not only stars in the production, but has choreographed all the musical numbers, that cover the American musical spectrum including gospel, jazz, blues, folk, ragtime, to some of the most beautiful Broadway ballads written. I must also thank my able assistant directors who will also stage manage the production, Bo Allen and Lee Dellinger. The numerous sets were constructed by Don Vesterse and the cast will perform to a fully digital orchestration thank to the MT Pit.

This is one show you shouldn’t miss. “The Color Purple” opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday evenings and closes at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $20 per person and should be reserved in advance because of advance ticket sales. Call NLT at 601-442-2233 or toll free at 1-877-440-2233 or save standing in line at the box office by purchasing your tickets on-line at www.natcheztheatre.org. If you are a member, sponsor or have pre-purchased your tickets you can now go directly to the Auditorium Main Entrance unless you want to stop in the Millstein Room for our complimentary bar. The box office will open one hour prior to each performance and it is recommended that everyone arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the show as all non-prepaid tickets will be released 15 minutes prior to the performance.

There will be a $15 ticket benefit performance for NLT’s Building Fund on Wednesday at 7 p.m. NLT is located at 319 Linton Ave. at Maple Street. We have nearly 400 reservations from all over the state and Louisiana, so please make your reservations now. I look forward to seeing you at “The Color Purple.”

 

Layne Taylor is the artistic and executive director on the Natchez Little Theatre and director of “The Color Purple.”