On Stage: The Color Purple returns to Philadephia

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By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

The Color Purple

For the second time this season, area theater fans are being treated to an inaugural run of a hit Broadway show’s National Tour.

The North American Tour of the Tony Award®-winning revival of “The Color Purple” visits Philadelphia from December 12-17 as part of the Broadway Philadelphia series, which is presented collaboratively by the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and The Shubert Organization.

“The Color Purple” is the epic tale of 40 years in the life of a family in rural Georgia with the focus on 14-year-old Celie. When Celie is forced by her abusive father to marry a cruel farmer, called “Mister,” she is separated from all that she loves. Ultimately, Celie conquers the odds to find her voice and her strength. “The Color Purple” celebrates the healing power of love and the importance of a zest for life.

Based on the Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the Warner Bros./Amblin Entertainment motion picture, “The Color Purple” has been  adapted for the stage by Tony- and Pulitzer-winner Marsha Norman with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray. Tony Award®-winning director and scenic designer John Doyle (Sweeney Todd, Company) recreates his award-winning work for the national tour, alongside costumes by Ann Hould-Ward, lighting by Jane Cox, sound by Dan Moses Schreier and wig & hair design by Charles G. LaPointe.

The revival of “The Color Purple” opened in summer 2013 at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory and followed with a Broadway run at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. “The Color Purple” won two 2016 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, two Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Revival of a Musical, the 2017 Grammy Award® for Best Musical Theater Album, and a Daytime Emmy®. “The Color Purple” played 483 performances on Broadway, closing on January 8, 2017.

The cast of the National Tour features Adrianna Hicks (Aladdin, Sister Act) as Celie, Carla R. Stewart (Ghost, Rent) as Shug Avery, Carrie Compere (Holler If You Hear Me, Shrek the Musical) as Sofia, and N’Jameh Camara (X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation) as Nettie.

“The tour started this past September,” said Camara, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Hartford, Connecticut. “We teched for a week in Schenectady, New York. Then, the official opening was in Baltimore, Maryland.”

Camara is an Equity actor, writer and teaching artist. She is a first generation American from families from The Gambia and the Philippines. She received her M.F.A from University of California at San Diego and her B.A from Loyola University Chicago. She is a member of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association where she presented on Intersectional Arts Pedagogy at the 2017 VASTA Singapore conference.

She is currently a writer for the Dramatists Guild production of The Monologue Project, an anthology that writes audition material for women of the African Diaspora.

Recent productions for Camara include “The Color Purple” National Tour and the World Premiere of “Pick X: or Betty Shabazz vs. The Nation” by Marcus Gardley. She has also written and performed a one-woman show about a young Maya Angelou – “Marguerite: Our Mama Angelou Who Saw the World Before It Saw Her.”

“I watched the film of ‘The Color Purple’ once when I was getting ready for the audition,” said Camara. “I saw the first Broadway tour in Chicago back in 2008. It was the first professional musical I had ever seen.

“I was also the first musical I ever saw that had an all-black cast. As a woman of color, that meant a lot to me. I remember being deeply moved – and being thrilled. I was a junior in high school in Milwaukee. We had a trip to Chicago to see the show at the Cadillac Theater. My high school music director told me to listen to the songs. I remember crying – and giving it a standing ovation.”

A decade later, Camara is playing one of the key roles in the National Tour of the musical.

“When I auditioned for ‘The Color Purple,’ they only called for the role of Nettie,” said Camara. “I had a second audition and then got called back and got cast in the role. That was back in July. I was one of the last cast members to be cast.”

Camara spoke of the difference between the movie and the stage show.

“If this show were just a play with music, it would be very close to the movie,” said Camara. “Because all the characters are being introduced through musical numbers, it makes a difference. Audiences get to know the characters through musical theater reference. The musical gets closer to the heart of the book.

“I love that Nettie, at a young age, wants to go to school – wants to be educates. She dreams of getting knowledge. She wants to be a teacher. She dreams of big things. She wants to be a missionary to Africa – to teach there and develop a world view. I can relate to that because I’m from Wisconsin and wanted to pursue an education. So, I studied abroad at a university in Rome.”

“The Color Purple” – as a book, a movie and a musical – has amassed a huge following of fans of all ages and all colors.

“At the end of the show, you realize that it’s not just a show about African-Americans,” said Camara. “It’s a story about two women that asks – what does it mean to be human and what does it take to survive? We face ourselves as audience members at the end of the show.”

Video link for “The Color Purple” — https://youtu.be/9mYZH9OF6SE

“The Color Purple” is running now through December 17 at the Forrest Theatre. Ticket prices start at $62.

Irish Christmas in America

On December 13, the Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) is presenting a concert that is a showcase of international music and a celebration of the Christmas holiday. The show — “Irish Christmas in America” — will treat fans to Celtic holiday traditions.

The hugely popular Irish Christmas in America show, now in its 13th season, features top Irish music, song and dance in an engaging performance rich in history, humor and boundless energy. Produced by Oisín Mac Diarmada of award-winning lrish group Téada, the 2017 tour brings back the amazing Séamus Begley, (TG4 Traditional Singer of the Year) along with the immense vocal talents of Sligo’s Niamh Farrell.

This family-friendly performance features evocatively-sung Irish ballads, lively instrumental tunes and thrilling Irish dancing, while evocative photographic images provide a backdrop to some of the rich historical traditions. The show offers a memorable glimpse into the enchanting spirit of Christmas, as the finest traditional artists from Ireland bring a fun-filled start to the holiday season of 2017 to American stages.

The holiday show was first conceived in 2005 with past tours featuring such stellar guest vocalists as Séamus Begley, Teresa Horgan, Méabh Begley, Lumiere, Karan Casey, Cara Dillon, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, Cathie Ryan and Michael Londra. Mac Diarmada enthuses about the program as a way to bring traditional and often unknown Irish customs to the States.

According to Mac Diarmada, “One of the most heartfelt themes of Irish Christmas is emigration. Music was a way that people stayed close to home.”

The show brings to stage the seasonal traditions of Ireland, where friends and family gather around the hearth or in pubs to share songs and stories. The warm and lively performance features compelling songs and carols in both English and Irish, and plenty of good Irish fun.

Champion step dancer Samantha Harvey lights up the stage, and joins in on piano with Diarmada, Grainne Hambley on the harp, and Seán Gavin on the uilleann pipes.

“This is my second year with the show,” said Farrell, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Manchester, New Hampshire. “Today is our one-and-only day off. We started on October 21. Last week, we were on the West Coast and cities in Arizona and Colorado. Now, we’re on the East Coast.

“This is the 13th year for the show. The core group has been the same for a number of years and they bring in singers each year. We had a blast last Christmas and I’m glad to be asked back. I got a call back in January asking me if I wanted to do this year’s tour. The music circles in Ireland are relatively small. Oisin is from Sligo too. Séamus is from West Kerry. He was an idol as a singer when I was growing up.”

Farrell came to attention in 2014 during a 10-month world tour with English singer-songwriting star David Gray. Farrell also joined the Irish group Project West with whom she has toured extensively.

“Project West toured the U.S. and Ireland last summer,” said Farrell. “We still play together but nothing has been lined up for next year yet.”

The Niamh Farrell preforming on this tour should not be confused with another Irish singer from the Dublin band Ham Sandwich. That singer has an entirely different claim to fame.

Ham Sandwich’s planned performance at the Glastonbury Festival in 2005 was disrupted after its lead singer Niamh Farrell gave birth to a baby she didn’t even know she was expecting. She was rushed to the hospital complaining about what she thought were stomach pains — but which she soon found was something completely different. She was pregnant and about to give birth to a son.

But, that was 12 years ago and the only similarities between the two singers are their names and their Irish roots. The crew of “Irish Christmas in America” knows there’s no need to worry if Farrell is spending a longer time than usual in the ladies’ room.

“There are several singers in Ireland with the name Niamh Farrell,” said Farrell. “Ham Sandwich’s singer definitely is not me. And, that was rock. I’m a traditional singer.”

Irish traditional music is at the core of the “Irish Christmas in America” show.

“Irish music is always evolving,” said Farrell. “But, to be considered Irish music, it has to be shaped in the tradition. In this show, most of the lads come from a traditional background.

“I do too but I’m also influenced by jazz and American folk music. ‘Irish Christmas in America’ definitely showcases Christmas in Ireland but we also touch on elements of American folk.

“The instrumentation is very Celtic. The sounds you hear are very Celtic. The repertoire is a mixture of Irish tunes with Christmas ideas in mind, carols – some Irish and some instrumental and folky songs that have Christmas elements.”

Video link for Irish Christmas in America – https://youtu.be/o3liQXuoOY4.

The show at the Grand Opera will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $26-$31.

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