Saturday, November 14, 2009

Theater Connect: The Color Purple

It's the only non-gospel, non-Tyler Perry play that black folks flock to en masse -- The Color Purple.

I attended opening night of the Orlando run last week; it was my second time seeing the show. The first time was on Broadway in December 2007 during one of Fantasia's last performances as Celie. My aunt and I stuffed ourselves into pint-sized balcony seats with 4 millimeters of leg room and nowhere to place our coats and purses. Needless to say, I was able to focus better on the musical from orchestra seats in Orlando than cramped attic seats on Broadway.

[Delect Inject: Lesson for life--Sometimes it's worth it to just pony up the extra money to truly enjoy an experience.]

On this tour, Kenita R. Miller does an awesome job as Celie, the unfortunate and often-called-ugly main character. Fantasia's Broadway version of young Celie had the advantage of Fantasia's childlike voice. However this aspect also weakened her performance when she wasn't enunciating. Soft words with no distinction sound like baby murmur (at least from the sky seats).

Angela Robinson as Suge Avery performing "Push Da Button."

My favorite character in the show is the fiery nightclub singer Suge Avery, played by Angela Robinson. Robinson brings so much panache to the role that I'm inspired to name my alter ego Suge Avery (move over Sasha Fierce!). Let me clarify, I was taken by Ms. Avery, but not the way Celie is in the story. Audience members unfamiliar with the book are often surprised by the turn Celie and Suge's relationship takes during Act II. Let's just say a rather bizarre moment occurs when Celie and Mister reminisce about how Suge left both of them.

Favorite character honorable mention goes to Sofia, played by Felicia P. Fields. Sofia is big in size and in personality. After “You told Harpo to beat me,” Sofia and her sisters perform one of the funniest numbers in the show, simply entitled, "Hell No!”

Although two of Suge's memorable songs from the movie (the one that goes, "Sistah, you been on my miiiind..." and "God is Trying to Tell You Something") are not featured in the play, there are plenty more songs to get your foot tappin'. Nineteen to be exact, including a reprise. And while I'm driving down this street...sigh. Musicals are a gift and a curse. You get a concert and a story all in one. But in the first act of The Color Purple, the numbers ran back to back to back. By the time any significant amount of dialogue was introduced, I was all sung out. Also, so much of the story is expressed through song that it's easy to miss some of the details. Eh, such is the nature of the beast, I suppose.

Nonetheless, The Color Purple is a phenomenal show with an impressive, ever-changing set, imaginative choreography, intriguing story, and soul. The show tours through February 2010, with Fantasia rejoining the cast during its last stop, in Los Angeles.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Film Connect:  Citizen Kane

Yeah, I took it back.

Way back.

To 1941.

That's so far back the term "old school" sounds too new to describe how far back it is. I borrowed Citizen Kane from the library this weekend not entirely on accident. I've wanted to learn more about the classics--books and movies--for a while now. Consider it part of my campaign to become a little less ignorant every day.

In brief, the movie is about the character Charles Foster Kane, played by Orson Welles (also the director) and his quick and unearned rise as publisher of a newspaper empire. He begins his career with good intentions, then power and money do what they do best (strip a man of all moral character), and he dies lonely in a giant estate (think Neverland times 50 with a castle and man-made mountain) called Xanadu.

Well, I haven't sat through a black and white movie since ...ummm...actually, I don't know if I've ever watched an entire black and white film (does Schindler's List count? Or that Prince flick, Under the Cherry Moon?). I'm ashamed to say I was surprised by how relatable the language and storyline are in Citizen Kane to a Generation Yer. Not sure what I expected. Elizabethan English? The dialogue and the problems are no different than those of today.

I immediately recognized the cinematography to be well thought out, an attribute that is often lost in film making. The lighting and depth of every shot in every scene has a purpose. Citizen Kane has been heavily lauded over the years for its groundbreaking cinematography.

The story kept my interest, if for nothing else than to find out the meaning of "rosebud." The makeup used to age the actors over decades is impressive, even compared to the "Benjamin Button" type effects of today.

Lingering Thoughts

Well, the lesson is nothing new--money can't buy happiness. The lesson for me is to not sell short the OGs of film. In the age of remixes and remakes, it's easy to fill ourselves with the newest model, the latest edition. But the cliche marketing adage of "new and improved" is often not the case.

Even though the American Film Institute and others rate Citizen Kane as one of the greatest movies of all time, I won't go out of my way to watch it again. It's a decent film, I just feel it strengths lie more in the technical arena than in the story. Any student of film and/or pop culture should study Citizen Kane and take notes.

Next up, Casablanca.