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Barn Dinner Theatre returns with beloved musical ‘The Color Purple’

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For more than a year, the footlights have been dark, the stage curtains pulled. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted every sector of life, but none more than arts and entertainment. But local theaters once again are coming alive — and the Barn Dinner Theatre has returned with an American classic: “The Color Purple.”

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, “The Color Purple” is a coming-of-age story of Celie Harris, a young Black woman growing up in rural Georgia in the early 20th century. She suffers terrible abuses but also receives tremendous love and support from her sister and friends. The musical opened on Broadway in 2015 and won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. The show runs at the Barn Dinner Theatre on Friday and Saturday nights through Sept 25.

While everyone was eager to bring back live theater, Donna Bradby, the show’s director, said it had to be done safely.

“One thing we are really proud of is everybody in the cast is vaccinated, and we are taking our COVID protocols seriously,” she said. “That’s the key to the theater coming back.”

“Being able to come back to a space where we feel comfortable and create this show has been a breath of fresh air,” said Brooke Wiley Willis, who stars as Celie.

Bradby said she’s also proud of the all-Black team both onstage and behind the scenes that is bringing “The Color Purple” to life. Many of the team members are former or current students at N.C. A&T, where Bradby is an adjunct professor and Marketing and Publicity Director in the Theatre Arts department

Many theatergoers know the story of “The Color Purple” from the 1985 film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. Bradby said the characters and the play have become beloved and that during productions, fans wait to hear the actors say certain famous lines.

“The Color Purple” tells the story of Celie, a teenage girl who goes from an abusive father to an abusive husband, Mister. But despite her bleak circumstances, she meets and draws strength from two strong women — Sofia and Shug. Celie’s courage and confidence grow and she builds a successful life for herself, proving that she is a survivor.

It is an emotionally charged play for sure. And Celie isn’t the only character to grow and change. Joseph Johnson, who plays Mister, said his character’s journey was one of the things that attracted him to this production.

“Mister goes through this transformation,” Johnson said. “My job wasn’t to be just an angry man, but to show why. He has to say, ‘I need to change — I’m not a good person.’”

“The show promotes the idea of having conversations,” Willis said. “When I leave the stage, I want people to be able to have a conversation about Celie and her story.”

The musical version adds award-winning original songs to Walker’s powerful story. High Point’s own Fantasia starred in the Broadway production of the musical in 2007.

Vanecia Boone, who plays Shug, said the musical numbers help make the serious, painful elements of the play “easier to swallow live.” The play also has elements of comic relief as well, she said, to balance the pain the characters experience.

“In this day and time, everyone needs a little ‘The Color Purple’” Bradby said.


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