“The Color Purple” highlights maturity of its outstanding young actors
By Tamara Stewart
Pictures by Bryan Allen
Powerful deliveries of the musical version of “The Color Purple” over the weekend of May 4-6 punctuated the culmination of the Performing and Visual Arts Magnet School’s performance calendar for this school year. Enthusiastic audiences heaped praise and well-deserved standing ovations on the show’s cast and crew, and the show’s Producer and Director, Evelyn Collins, notched another one in the Win column.
As wonderfully usual, the Friday premiere of the show was enhanced by complementary staging from the time theatergoers entered the building. Color Purple-themed art work, live jazz music, Southern-style fare, iced-tea and lemonade, and mason jars as gifts, set the mood for excited attendees as they mixed and mingled.
Based on Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer prize-winning book by the same name, The Color Purple succeeded as a movie in 1985 before being adapted into a musical written by Marsha Norman in 2004. Following The Color Purple’s 2005 Broadway debut, the musical was recognized with 11 Tony Award nominations in 2006, and LaChanze received the Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award that year. Since its debut, the musical has toured nationally and internationally, and it was revived on Broadway from 2015-17, winning Tonys for Best Actress in a Musical and Best Revival of a Musical in 2016.
The Color Purple is an emotional story, filled with uncomfortable, mature subjects. Sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, lesbianism, sexism and racism are chief among the sensitive themes present in The Color Purple. Mount Vernon’s young actors embraced the challenges presented by the material, and demonstrated their maturity with strong portrayals filled with empathy and nuance. “Bravo! Our kids brought tears to my eyes more than once during the performance,” said one enthusiastic attendee.
As their fourth and final high school production, The Color Purple was a bittersweet triumph for six graduating Seniors in the Performing and Visual Arts Magnet School who attend Mount Vernon, Thorton, and Mandela High Schools. Three of the soon-to-be graduates, Dionysia Placide, Caliliah Hines, and Aaron Davis, have appeared in all four of the high school productions: The Wiz, Dreamgirls, Raisin, and The Color Purple. These three talented actors also recently medaled in the NAACP ACT-SO Competition this year. ACT-SO stands for Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, which is a yearlong youth enrichment program sponsored by the NAACP since 1978. Placide and Davis will be attending Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, and Hines will be attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, in the fall. Another graduating Senior, Ruby Acquah, who was the Assistant Director for The Color Purple and who has worked on productions for the past four years, will be attending the University of Buffalo.
“Our cast and crew rehearsed six days a week for five weeks to create a memorable theatrical and musical experience for the community, and our talented students delivered just that,” said Collins. “Coming after our unexpected encore performances of The Lion King, Jr. did not allow for a traditional three month rehearsal period. Our students worked like professionals for 3 to 4 hours each day. The short rehearsal period was unusual for students and aligned with standards of professionals,” said Evelyn Collins.
“I can’t believe how talented these kids are! From now on, I’m going to see every show they produce,” said one enthusiastic attendee. “The Arts are back in Mount Vernon,” said another. Indeed, Mount Vernon’s Performing and Visual Arts Magnet School has created a welcome arts revival in the school district. Long live the Arts!
Miss Celie's Pants
Adam, Nettie & Olivia
Young Nettie & Celie
Sofia (Dionysia Placide) & Harpo (Aaron Davis) Dancing