taprena augustine-dayna jarae dantzler_web.jpgDayna Dantzler knew she had some big shoes to fill. Following behind Fantasia in the leading role of Celie in the stage play adapted from Alice Walker’s 1982 novel The Color Purple might be a bit intimidating for even another veteran actor or singer. But for this 20-something Detroit native, a professional performer a mere four years, it was the biggest challenge of her young career reprising a role from television and Hollywood’s biggest stars.

“People definitely have Whoopi Goldberg in their minds; even if they’ve not seen the musical, most have seen the movie,” said Dantzler. “We all had literally big roles to fill, with Oprah [Winfrey], of course, being Sofia, and Miss [Margaret] Avery playing Shug Avery. Those are iconic characters and so there was that pressure. And then there was the pressure of going on after Fantasia.”

The Broadway adaptation of The Color Purple will be staged through Sunday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, and based on what I saw last night, the talented young actress has made the character her own. Dayna Dantzler truly is more believable as "Celie" than her predecessors. She possesses a certain innocence as an actress that makes her a breath of fresh air to watch. Her powerful alto vocals are riveting to the ear, and lend so much meaning and purpose to Stephen Bray's brilliant lyrics. 

Likewise, Taprena Augustine delivers an unforgettable performance as the sassy Shug Avery. Augustine is sultry and sexy when she needs to be, but is otherwise, loving, nurturing, and sensitive to Celie's feelings when the part demands it. Even when she wants to walk away from their relationship temporarily, she nonetheless comes across as kind and considerate to Celie, who has never been shown such consideration by anyone other than her beloved sister. 

This cast delivers the most powerful, awe-inspiring performance as a group, leaving no audience members wishing they'd seen it on Broadway in New York.  
The musical traces the life of Dantzler’s character Celie through a loveless and troublesome adolescence, where she bore two children from sexual abuse by the man she believes to be her natural father. Both children are taken away and she is ultimately sold off to a man she addresses only as “Mister.” Eventually, Celie discovers a love relationship – the first love she’s ever known — with a sexy songstress known as Shug Avery. The relationship is rewarding but complex. But, eventually, Celie’s fortune takes a turn and she finally discovers her own strength.

“Celie is kind of an emotional rollercoaster,” said Dantzler, who admitted being pushed to the brink both mentally and physically by the role which she’s played for more than a year. “It goes from every emotion you can think of – from despair to complete loss of hope, to joy, to love to happiness. So, it’s emotionally taxing and physically taxing.”

But it’s these emotional peaks and valleys that lend themselves to some of the most amazing moments for vocal performances, said Stephen Bray, composer and lyricist for The Color Purple. Bray, who spent the better part of his early music career collaborating with Madonna, whom he met in Michigan while he was waiting tables and she was a mere aspiring dancer, said it was an opportunity of a lifetime when he was tapped in 2005 to create the music for the Broadway production of Walker’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel.

Bray said there are poignant musical performances in the show that he hopes audiences would remember, such as What About Love?, when Celie and Shug realize what their relationship means to each other; and I’m Here, when Celie discovers that her relationship with God is very strong and that it will sustain her; and Too Beautiful for Words, which Bray wrote for the sensational, yet sensitive, moment when Shug tries to get Celie, who feels she is ugly, to realize she has amazing beauty.

Bray, who is married to Hustle and Flow movie producer Stephanie Allain, said it was for these tender yet complex moments that he created lyrics to capture poignant moments in the play – moments that he hopes would leave an indelible mark on theatre-goers.

“I would hope the audience would remember these moments after the show – hopefully!” said Bray, who was nominated for a Tony Award for his work on the show.

The Color Purple is playing through Sunday, May 15, at the Kravis Center. For tickets, call the Kravis Center Box Office at 561-832-SHOW or visit Kravis.org.

Daphne Taylor may be reached at daphnetaylor_49@hotmail.com