Evocative 'The Color Purple' opens Ensemble Theatre's 2014 season - Jan. 16-25

Evocative 'The Color Purple' opens Ensemble Theatre's 2014 season - Jan. 16-25

January 16th, 2014 by Clint Cooper in Chattnow Art

L'Shante Faunteroy, Lawrence Sneed and Mary Edwards, from left, rehearse a scene from "The Color Purple."

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

* What: "The Color Purple."

* When: 7:30 p.m. today, Jan. 16, Friday, Jan. 17, Saturday, Jan. 18, and Jan. 23-25; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19, and Jan. 26.

* Where: Eastgate Town Center, 5600 Brainerd Road.

* Admission: $20 adults, $15 students.

* Phone: 423-602-8460.

* Website: ensembletheatreofchattanooga.com.

ENSEMBLE'S 2014 SEASON

* Jan. 16-26: "The Color Purple"

* Feb. 13-23: "Fat Pig"

* March 20-30: "The Scarlet Letter"

* May 8-18: "Rumors"

* July 17-27: "The Accused"

* Aug. 21-31: "La Cage Aux Folles"

* Sept. 11-21: "Othello"

* Oct. 2-12: "Bent"

* Oct. 23-26: "Colonel Pilate"

* Nov. 6-9: Short Attention Span 6

* Nov. 20-23: "Chatting With the Tea Party"

While "The Color Purple" opens the Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga's 2014 season today, Jan. 16, it also closes out a year of the theater's concentration on one of its stated goals of courageously eliminating bias.

The musical, adapted from the Alice Walker novel and the 1985 movie, focuses on Celie, a black woman whose life is fraught with many hardships but who, in the end, becomes fiercely strong and inspiring in changing herself and those around her for the better.

"It fits in brilliantly ... on multiple accounts," says director Garry Posey.

The ETC troupe has been predominantly white, and the production -- with 19 black actors -- caused the theater to widen its talent pool, he says. That, in turn, should extend the theater's patron pool.

"There's a whole new community of people to see the show," Posey says, "because of the title."

The production runs this weekend and next, Jan. 16-26.

Posey says he saw the musical -- which had its premiere at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta-- in New York City after it moved to Broadway.

"When I saw it," he says, "it was one of the most inspirational experiences I've ever had. The story is extremely important to share with people."

The book, movie and stage musical are equally effective in telling the story, Posey says, but the "music definitely heightens it."

While "The Color Purple" is a traditional book musical in having dialogue and song that move along the plot, he says, the musical "runs the gamut" of musical styles. The opening number is "a sort of classical church/gospel/praising song, but as you move through the play you get jazz, blues" and more. One number may start in one style and end in another, he says.

Both the book and the movie influenced the stage musical, according to Posey, but the musical also offers things that don't happen in the movie.

"I think the creators knew" how much the music could influence the production, he says, "and they used that to their advantage. I think they knew that music would be the next way to tell the story."

Among its most touching songs, Posey says, are "I'm Here" near the end of the show and the title song that closes out the production.

"It's hard not to do them right," he says.

Posey says he believes the Ensemble Theatre is the first one in Tennessee, or at least East Tennessee, to stage the musical.

"For us to think about it," he says of the 55-seat theater, "it's an almost insurmountable task. But it fits into the theme, and the interest is out there, so we bit the bullet."

Posey says he has laughed and cried watching the show -- "genuine emotional responses" to the play's subject matter and the talents of his cast.

[In a Broadway theater], they don't have the intimacy we have at ETC," he says. "I think that intimacy will make it even more powerful, and [the actors'] pipes are pretty phenomenal."

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.