Where Every Family Matters

Carli Harden as Celie in The Nashville Repertory Theatre production of "The Color Purple"

A Jubilant “The Color Purple” at Nashville Repertory Theatre

Come out to witness the glorious transformation of a woman from invisible to self-reliant entrepreneur in the Rep's fourth show of their 39th season.

Nashville Repertory Theatre
— presents —
The Color Purple
Music and Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allie Willis & Stephen Bray

Book by Marsha Norman
April 5 – 14, 2024
TPAC’s James K. Polk Theater
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
Nashville Parent recommends this production for ages 14+ due to adult content


“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”


— Alice Walker, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple


Maya Antoinette Riley as Nettie and Carli Harden as Celie in “The Color Purple”

The Color Purple, now open at Nashville Repertory Theatre, delivers vibrant hues of emotional drama and yes, royal purple, in a glorious array of musical theater rich to behold. It’s a powerful spiritual journey that will leave you uplifted and satisfied. This fourth production of the Rep’s 39th season brings Alice Walker’s heartbreaking 1982 book to life through multiple themes of abuse and ultimately redemption in the American South.

Of course, you’ve probably seen The Color Purple in one version or another, whether on stage or screen. For a book, musical and film that’s been around since the 80s, the story remains fiercely relevant today, post #MeToo, the massive worldwide movement against sexual abuse. If you haven’t seen The Color Purple in any iteration, now’s your chance to.

The Influence of Strong Women

The story spans decades and follows beleaguered Celie (Carli Harden, a revelation), as a sexually abused 14-year-old girl at the onset. She has only her beloved sister, Nettie, (a noble and vocally gifted Maya Antoinette Riley) for salvation. But within a short time, Celie has been separated from her two babies (conceived through incest) as well as Nettie, when her father forces her into marriage with a bitter farmer, Mister (Elliott Winston Robinson). Mister brutalizes Celie into a life of endless drudgery and beatings. He also hides the daily letters Nettie writes to Celie who, through her suffering, begins to question the existence of God. It is a great relief when Celie begins to gain life-giving self-respect through stronger women who come into her life.

While the men are mostly depicted as dogs in this tale (save Harpo, a warm and expressive Gerold Oliver), the women dominate. When Harpo arrives with the powerful Sofia (a fabulous Shinnerrie Jackson, who refuses to kowtow to men), the air crackles with new possibility. Same when the much-vaunted Shug Avery (sultry songstress Tamica Nicole) comes, offering Celie an intimate lifeline by encouraging her spiritually through friendship and love. The surprise return of Nettie in Act II (whom Celie thought dead) resurrects Celie’s heart at last — and her belief that yes, God does exist.

When Sofia (Shinnerrie Jackson) arrives on the scene, a strong bolt of hope does, too.

An outstanding cast of 17 delivers with verve and joy as directed by Reggie Law. The ensemble handles the upbeat choreography (Joi Ware) deftly. Much of the story is commented on by a zesty trio of Church Ladies (Lindsey Kaye Pace, Yolanda Treece and Meggan Utech) who sing in hilarious call-and-respond rhythms.

Notable Production Values

The Color Purple moves along at a clip with minimalist aesthetic support throughout. Lights (Dalton Hamilton), sound (Mark S. Zuckerman) and costumes (Nia Safarr Banks) underscore Joohnee Park’s floor-to-rafters wooden scenic design. To match, props (Lauren Yawn), are scant with chairs, baskets, a suitcase, a blanket, a Bible. Annoyingly, at one point, the laundry basket that chore-burdened Celie carries out should be overflowing (easy fix; women with children know the relentlessness of washing woes all too well).

Music and lyrics by the lauded Brenda Russell, Allie Willis and Stephen Bray are their own stars with numerous standouts. These include the gorgeous “Too Beautiful for Words,” “What About Love?” and, of course, “The Color Purple.” An eight-piece orchestra led by Music Director Dion Treece, handles the rhythmically complex score of jazz, ragtime, gospel, African music and blues with skill. While some numbers lack the lushness only a string section can provide, guitars, keyboard, reeds, a bass and trumpet suffice.

The sultry Shug Avery (Tamica Nicole), recognizes and loves Celie’s heart.

But it’s Harden’s Celie that anchors us. From Act I (where her suffering is curiously underdramatized) she is cowed and self-effacing. Moving forward, the actress ever so cautiously works the arc of her character (like a bird peering out beneath its wing) until flashes of her spirit begin to surface. And although challenging musical numbers sometimes test the top of her range, she holds her own during the barn-burning “I’m Here,” and we cheer.

For a show that has been around some 42 years, The Color Purple is as relevant as ever. Get thee to the Rep with a date, your friends or with your teenage kids. Women are not and never have been here as objects to serve men. Although women may be the weaker sex, the truth is, “The last will be first, and the first last.” For Celie, and for many, that truth may take years to realize. But the truth will prevail. And yes, the truth will set you free.





About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.