NEW YORK - A new face on Broadway has done something that producer Oprah Winfrey couldn't - convinced this reviewer that "The Color Purple" is a must-see. But it is right now and will be through October.
"American Idol" winner Fantasia gives such a powerful performance in her Broadway debut that it's almost, to borrow a lyric from the show, "too beautiful for words."
What makes it even more of a triumph is that Fantasia had never acted on stage or even seen a Broadway show before stepping into the role that won La Chanze a Tony last year.
The show's director, Gary Griffin, worked with Fantasia in Chicago to get her ready to play Celie, the long-suffering Southern woman Alice Walker created in her prize-winning book.
Griffin did a good job.
Fantasia's natural ease and honesty come through from the moment she steps onstage at the Broadway Theatre. She doesn't try to sell her acting or singing but creates a beautiful aura around Celie that draws you in. It's a deeper "Purple" as a result.
Spanning two continents and 40 years, the story is a challenge to adapt to the stage, and the show isn't always effective.
The long second-act opening scene set in Africa, colorful and kinetic as it is, breaks the momentum. And having three comic busybodies comment on the action in such a serious story doesn't quite work.
"Color Purple" remains a lavish and soulful production with a strong cast, though, and its songs grow on you every time you hear them.
That's certainly true of the title number, introduced in the show by the sexy juke-joint singer Shug Avery (Tony nominee Elisabeth Withers-Mendes, ravishing as ever), and performed by the whole company at the curtain call.
That moment follows Celie's exultant and rousing finale, "I'm Here."
It is a fitting song for Fantasia. *
"The Color Purple," Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, New York, N.Y., $26.25-$111.25, 212-239-6200.