OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Mercury's stage turn of Oprah's 'Color Purple' dazzles

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-09-04T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Mercury's stage turn of Oprah's 'Color Purple' dazzlesBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

The moving powerful words, passion, messages and emotional tug of author Alice Walker's book "The Color Purple," published in 1982, has a lasting impact that easily translates to stage as a musical.

A new production at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave., just a stone's throw away from Wrigley Field, playing through Oct. 27, is a wonderful and heartfelt telling of Walker's masterpiece as a two and a half hour equally entertaining experience.

How strongly do audiences feel about Walker and her work?

At all female private Wellesley College in Massachusetts, the 1990 commencement address was supposed to have been given by Walker, who had to cancel and was replaced by First Lady Barbara Bush. Students complained and protested Bush as Plan B, citing she was not an ideal role model for an independent woman had been selected only "because she was the wife of the President." Bush, who is now 88, won them over with her good nature and included a remark about "not being famous for 'The Color Purple,' " but rather, more known for the blue color of her hair."

Our last visit of a run of "The Color Purple" stage musical was a national tour that played Arie Crown Theater in September 2009.

It was two years after Oprah Winfrey's 2007 venture into the world of Broadway, launching the musical, which opened in Chicago pre-Broadway in May 2007 for a quick summer run before heading back to a New York Broadway stage in December the same year.

Mercury Theater creates a far more intimate and audience connected production, which stars Trisha Jeffrey of Broadway's "Rent," "All Shook Up" and "Little Shop of Horrors," as well as the first National Tour of "Sister Act," playing the main role of  Celie, while Jasondra Johnson, who I loved in "Crowns" at Goodman Theatre steps into the role of Sophia, the character played by Winfrey in the 1985 film version. Adrienne Walker heats up as Shug, the sultry, singing maven of the bunch, all led by multiple Jeff Award winners L. Walter Stearns as director, Eugene Dizon as musical director and Brenda Didier as choreographer.

Keithon Gipson is masterful as Mister, and backed with solid talents like Cortez Johnson as Ol Mister and Evan Tyrone Martin as Harpo. The ensemble includes Carrie Louise Abernathy, Brittany Bradshaw, Sydney Charles, Aaron Holland, Donterrio Johnson, Donica Lynn, Travis Porchia, Ninah Snipes and Crystal Wood.

This musical is brought to vivid life on stage with a set designed by Robert Knuth, lighting design by Nick Belley, costume design by Frances Maggio, and sound design by Mike Ross. I had forgotten just how wonderful the songs and musical score are for this show. This is a production not to be missed.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Group discounts of up to 50 percent for groups of 10 or more at (312) 423-6612 or (866) 809-3075. Otherwise, individual tickets are $22-$59 at MercuryTheaterChicago.com or (773) 325-1700 or in person at the box office.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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