Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel went Broadway two years ago and, in an adaptation market besotted with fleecy sentimentality and formulaic musicals, received a surprisingly faithful and melodic compression from book writer Marsha Norman and composer-lyricists Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. This touring show transforms Walker’s epistolary narrative into a reductive but irresistible story about Celie (Jeannette Bayardelle), a Southern black woman beaten down almost from birth but whose resilience allows her to survive and triumph in an America slowly changing over her lifetime. Set in rural Georgia between 1909 and 1949, Purple traces Celie’s brutal adolescence as she goes from being the sexual plaything of her stepfather (Quentin Earl Darrington) to the oppressed child bride of a man known only as “Mister” (Rufus Bonds Jr.). The tale fascinates not only because of its Dickensian tropes and insular African-American milieu, but also because Celie’s oppression by Mister occurs within the larger hell created by white society. In addition to the traditional Southern three strikes (black, poor and female), Celie is also a lesbian, and comes out during her early friendship with Shug Avery (Michelle Williams), a high-living singer who is also Mister’s sometime mistress. Although Act 2 suffers from an inevitable sugar rush stemming from empowerment, reform and reconciliation, Purple sustains much of its punch over its nearly two-and-a-half hours. Original production director Gary Griffin gets great efforts from a huge ensemble, but especially from Bayardelle as the long-suffering Celie, and Bonds as her delightfully evil husband. Center Theatre Group at the AHMANSON THEATRE, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6:30 p.m.; mats Sat., 2 p.m. & Sun., 1 p.m.; no perfs Dec. 25, Jan. 1 & March 5 or evenings Feb. 3 & March 9; added perfs Dec. 27, Jan. 31 & March 6, 2 p.m. & Dec. 31, 8 p.m.; perf March 4 is 7:30 p.m.; thru March 9. (213) 972-7231.
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