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Musical 'The Color Purple' opens in Sarasota

WBTT founding member Apphia Campbell returns to Sarasota from her current home of Edinburgh, Scotland to play Celie in 'The Color Purple' 
 Photo by Don Daly Photo
WBTT founding member Apphia Campbell returns to Sarasota from her current home of Edinburgh, Scotland to play Celie in 'The Color Purple' Photo by Don Daly Photo

When the musical version of "The Color Purple" had its world premiere in Atlanta, James Harkness was a member of the cast. He was also in the show when it opened on Broadway 2005.

Harkness is working on "The Color Purple" again, this time as a director and choreographer. He's at the helm of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe production that opens the company's 2015-16 season in Sarasota on Saturday.

The musical is, of course based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which also served as the basis Steven Spielberg's acclaimed film.

"I definitely think that if you love the movie you'll love the stage show," Harkness said. "The musical is a little closer to the book. But there are enough of the moments from the film that are also in the musical."

One of the most obvious differences between the film and the musical, Harkness said, is that a lesbian relationship between Shug and Celie is apparent in the musical. In the film, he said, it was barely hinted at.

The book and the lyrics of the musical comes from Broadway great Marsha Norman. She won a Pulitzer for the drama "'night, Mother" and she wrote the book for "The Secret Garden."

The music was written by Brenda Russell (best known as the singer of "Piano in the Dark"), pop songwriter Allee Willis ("Neutron Dance" and the theme from "Friends") and Madonna collaborator Stephen Bray ("True Blue" and "Into the Groove.")

The WBTT production is somewhat pared down, Harkness said, with 17 actors compared to the Broadway version's 24, and a five-piece band.

But it retains the message and the power of the original.

"It's about figuring out that your capacity for love, and your capacity for forgiveness, is much, much greater than you imagine," he said.

Details: Oct. 17-Nov. 21, West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota. Show times: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $38 adult, $27 student/military. Information: 941-366-1505, westcoastblacktheatre.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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