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The Color Purple review at Cadogan Hall, London – ‘immense vocal and dramatic strength’

Marisha Wallace and Rachel John in The Color Purple at Cadogan Hall. Photo: Scott Rylander Marisha Wallace and Rachel John in The Color Purple at Cadogan Hall. Photo: Scott Rylander

Each time The Color Purple gets smaller, it seems to grow larger in impact. It started life as a big Broadway musical in 2005; then John Doyle magnificently pared it back for its British premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2013, before returning it to Broadway in 2015. Now, a concert staging strips it to the bare bones of the soaring gospel and soul songs that drive its moving drama of Celie’s emergence from abused child, raped by her father, and suffering a forced, violent marriage, to becoming a confident woman who knows her own worth.

Danielle Tarento’s production benefits from being staged at Cadogan Hall, which makes it feel like we are already inside an evangelical church, an impression augmented by the presence of a 36-strong onstage choir, plus 10 members of a young company.

The production gets a thrilling sense of scale, yet there’s also a raw immediacy and intimacy to a presentation that is constantly ignited by the sheer power and dynamism of its singers, undistracted by sets. 

The powerhouse company is led by the extraordinary Marisha Wallace, currently the alternate Effie in Dreamgirls, and therefore a performer who knows how to stop a show: here that moment comes with a startling Act Two song of defiance and affirmation ‘I’m Here’, which could be the answer to the desperate Dreamgirls plea ‘I’m Telling You I’m Not Going’, and has the entire audience duly on its feet. As Shug – lover to Celie’s husband, who becomes lover to Celie as well – Rachel John is radiant of voice and vivacious of personality. They are joined by a company of immense vocal and dramatic strength, with a live eight-piece onstage band under James Taylor providing matchless accompaniment.

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One-off concert brings The Color Purple back to London in matchless style.