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If you remember the plot of Alice Walker's groundbreaking 1982 novel The Color Purple, you remember a story about child rape, horrific verbal and physical abuse, racism and lesbianism.

Not the usual fodder for a Broadway musical. "Wicked" or "The Lion King" this definitely isn't.

And yet, improbably, "The Color Purple" works. A talented, exuberant cast won over the audience at the Capitol Theatre on Tuesday, Nov. 16, bringing Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning book to life in a way it's unlikely the writer could have imagined.

From the nearly flawless musical performances (minus one missed note at the end of the first act) to the energetic dancing (particularly by the male cast members), this musical is great fun. As odd as that might seem.

This adaptation isn't as dark as the 1985 movie, but it remains a harsh tale. It's the story of Celie (Dayna Jarae Dantzler), who at age 14 gives birth to her second child conceived after she is raped by her stepfather (Mark Hall). She is then handed over to an abusive common-law husband, Mister (Edward C. Smith), who keeps her from the one person in her life who loves her — her sister, Nettie (Traci Allen).

Later, Celie does find someone else: Mister's lost love, Shug Avery (Taprena Augustine). And Celie and Shug Avery's isn't a platonic love.

As you'd expect, this is an adult show. Sex is treated maturely, although the content at times goes beyond simply suggestive. There's plenty of dirty dancing, topped by the pelvic-thrust oriented song, "Push Da Button."

The folks behind "The Color Purple" (book by Marsha Norman; music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray) faced two huge obstacles. First, there's so much plot to plow through — decades of Celie's life, which accounts for the nearly three-hour performance time. (The first act ran 96 minutes; after an 18-minute intermission, the second ran 71.)

The more daunting task was making the story of an abused woman not only palatable, but musical.

They smartly highlighted the ensemble role of tough, no-nonsense Sofia (Pam Trotter), who wins over the audience midway through the first act, singing the sisters' anthem "Hell No!" as a response to the idea that she could ever be controlled by a man. The number drew cheers, and Trotter got the biggest ovation during the curtain call. Of course, they also laughed and applauded when Sofia beat up her husband, Harpo (Lee Edward Colston II), after he dared to raise a hand to her. (The cast includes Utahn Clotile Bonet a0s a member of the ensemble.)

"The Color Purple" is, improbably, uplifting. Celie questions God, as you might expect. "If God ever listened to poor colored women, the world would be a different place," she says with no small degree of bitterness. But she regains her faith in the end.

The musical also smartly plays with some musical-theater conventions, such as in the characters of the three church ladies (DeAun Parker, Virlinda Stanton and Nesha Ward) who act as a gospel-flavored Greek choir.

And, as Celie reads letters from her sister — who she thought was dead but has become a missionary in Africa — we are transported to that continent in a knockout scene filled with dancing, singing and drama. It's a great way to advance the plot and entertain at the same time.

As we might expect from the ticket prices of this touring show, the production itself was smartly staged — from scenery to colorful costumes. With the exception of occasionally muddled sound on opening night, the production was technically impeccable.

"The Color Purple" must be the best musical ever made about child rape, horrific verbal and physical abuse, bisexuality, and overcoming racism and sexism — perhaps because of the lack of competition in the genre.

Despite the heavy subject matter, the talented ensemble still hits all its marks as entertainers.

'The Color Purple'

R Despite challenging subject matter, exuberant musical entertains.

When • Reviewed Tuesday, Nov. 16; continues tonight at 8; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21.

Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $30-$57.50 (plus service fees), students $15, at or 801-355-ARTS.

Running time • Approximately three hours, including a 15-minute intermission