Embracing the power of resilience, love, and the indomitable human spirit, The Color Purple takes center stage at the iconic Shea’s 710 Theatre this Fall. Adapted from Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, this award-winning musical embodies the essence of sisterhood, intimacy and endearment, and the triumph over adversity, and has resonated deeply with audiences of all walks of life. Local theater companies: Ujima Company, Second Generation Theater Company, and Shea’s 710 Theatre have come together in a historic collaboration to produce this epic musical theater masterpiece.
The Color Purple originated from a conversation between Kelly Copps, Artistic Director of Second Generation Theater Company and Kristin Bentley, executive director of Second Generation.
“[Kristin] suggested The Color Purple, and I immediately said ‘Great! But that’s not really our story to tell.’ We had just developed a really wonderful relationship with Brian Brown, who is now the general manager of Ujima Company. And we brought it to Brian and said, ‘What do you think? Would Ujima want a partner?’ And partnering is a very scary thing, because you have to be equals.” shared Copps, “You have to both be bringing something to the table. You have to both be taking on your share of responsibility and making it work and making it worth the other’s time for it to really flourish.”
After a few conversations with Sarah Norat Phillips, who is the director of The Color Purple and the Interim Artistic Director of Ujima, the new team approached Shea’s where Second Generation Theatre is in residence. They immediately said yes.
Shea’s not only produces their Broadway Series on the mainstage, but they also run two other stages, Shea’s Smith Theatre and Shea’s 710 Theatre (formerly Studio Arena Theatre). In the past five years, the Shea’s team has taken a more active role in attracting big broadway tours, with several starting in Buffalo, as well as teaming up with local professional theaters to produce broadway level collaborations with local talent.
Sarah Norat Phillips, director of The Color Purple, was familiar with the source material when she was approached about the project. “I read it when I was 27 years old and It changed my life. I always tell people that I walked away having a different understanding of the word ‘sisterhood’ than I had when I first picked the book up.” Norat Phillips is perfectly primed to bring the story of the life of Celie, Nettie, Sophia, Shug, and all of the challenges and beauty that surround the character’s journeys. “At the center of it, at the core of it, for me, is these four women and how Celie gains strength from each of them until she is her own full person, and she recognizes her beauty. It’s very late in her life when she comes to that. But the fact that she never succumbs to the damage, to the torture, to the torment is a gift… Women all over the world have responded to Celie and to this story. It’s produced on stages all over the world. And should be, because it’s a beautiful story about how a spirit can be beaten, but not broken.”
If you haven’t read the book, if you haven’t seen the movie, or you haven’t seen the musical before, then you need to experience this story, said Gabrielle McKinley, who steps into the iconic role of Celie. “You need to feel yourself grow through the character that is Celie, the main protagonist. You need to feel yourself grow through Sofia. You need to feel yourself grow through Shug. You need to feel yourself grow through Nettie and everybody else who’s experienced this story entirely has. If you question whether you are important, whether you are valuable, if you’ve ever questioned whether you are valuable in your family, in your society, and your community, or at your workplace, then you need to experience what it’s like to own your own value… There’s no other way, no better way to experience and to empathize than through theater.”
The story of The Color Purple does not shy away from the hardships that the characters endure. “There’s such a deep level of empathy that is needed to really be able to come in and experience these characters and their journey, and to really see the things that go on,” said Anika Pace, the artist playing Nettie in The Color Purple. She feels that the feeling of community will allow audiences to experience The Color Purple. “As performers and as audience members, we are exchanging energy back and forth with each other… It’s not just people coming and ‘OK, I’m just sitting in and watching as they do their thing.’ We are feeding energy back and forth.”
The Color Purple promises to be an unforgettable experience that will leave audiences profoundly moved and utterly inspired. Featuring some of the finest local talent Buffalo has to offer, The Color Purple, will be presented on the intimate stage of Shea’s 710 Theatre from September 14- October 1, 2023. The best places to get tickets for The Color Purple are the Shea’s Box office, Shea’s website, or ticketmaster to avoid third party resale fees.
CONTENT ADVISORY: This play contains themes of violence, abuse, rape and sexuality. Parents should use discretion about what is age appropriate for their children. Should you or anyone you know need assistance, The Color Purple team has partnered with Family Justice Center of Erie County, who provides free services and support to individuals and the community on breaking the cycle of abuse.