US creators heap praise on SA’s The Colour Purple

Didintle Khunou plays the lead role of Celie in The Colour Purple. (Photo: Supplied)
Didintle Khunou plays the lead role of Celie in The Colour Purple. (Photo: Supplied)

Johannesburg - The Colour Purple has received rave reviews since it opened at The Joburg Theatre two weeks ago.

American composers Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray joined the long list of people who can’t stop talking about the local version of the musical after they watched it on Friday.

“Loved it, loved it, loved it. I cried within the first five minutes,” said Russell, one of the Grammy award-winning musicians who wrote the production’s music.

“It was mind-blowing. The musical is filled with talented singers and great dancing.”

Willis said there was no better place to watch the musical.

“With so much of the story based on the continent, it’s incredible to watch it in South Africa.”

The Colour Purple was Bray’s Broadway debut.

The Grammy-nominated producer has worked with Australian pop star Kylie Minogue, and is the brains behind Madonna’s Into the Groove and Papa Don’t Preach.

“The musical is fantastic.

“We have heard South Africa’s vocal style before, so to have it applied to our musical was a dream come true,” he said.

“I can’t believe this was [lead actress] Didintle Khunou’s debut. We were all blown away.”

Russell said they were also amazed by the cast’s American accents.

“I was surprised the actors nailed the accents, considering the fact that they don’t actually speak like that,” she said.

Ahead of their performance on Friday, the cast got to meet the composers for the first time.

The actors and musicians exchanged compliments during a private photo session.

Bray said: “I was taken aback by the audience’s response.

“It was the same as the response in Detroit, Los Angeles and Chicago. It’s amazing how universal the story is.

“We should never forget [author] Alice Walker, who created these characters. We have all been involved in a situation where love had to come through or everything would be lost.

“I think audiences, wherever they are, can relate to that.”

The composers had been longing for the musical to be staged in South Africa.

“We said if the show ever went to South Africa, that was the one place we wanted to go to.

“It is the only country we singled out. We wanted to be here,” said Willis.

Asked where else they would like to take the production, she said: “Anywhere and everywhere.

“We hope everyone will hear about it and want to take it everywhere.”

She said if they could change anything about the local version, they would use an older version of the song Mister Mister.

“I still sing the original version in my head every time that particular scene comes up. But it’s ultimately the director’s choice.”

Russell said writing the The Colour Purple’s music was a spiritual experience.

Willis said: “We worked on our relationship with each other by having a lot of group therapy.

“We just wanted to make Alice happy.”

The Colour Purple runs at The Joburg Theatre until 4 March.

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