“Go ahead and push the button,” the renowned Shug Avery cajoles, as she expertly shows how it’s done. Rocking and rolling her fine features to compliment a fine singing voice, she shows us why women secretly despise her yet want to be her, and why men long for her even though they have established partners.
But in the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s famous book,The Color Purple, poor Celie is, for once, unlikely to follow instructions. She is more accustomed to being a button than enjoying the thrills that Shug sings and gestures about. After all, how downtrodden does a woman have to be to let another woman sleep with her man –under her own roof?
The button Shug encourages Celie and others to push is a sexual one, but it does not stand alone — it is arguably grounded in self-awareness and self-confidence.
If early on Celie had any self-esteem to prop up her broken but seeking heart, she would not have consented to being disgraced by Shug and her so-called husband, Mister, or anyone else. But as you might know, self-confidence is an important precondition for action, and is difficult to summon, especially when mentally, emotionally and physically abused.
Fortunately Celie eventually realizes her own value when Shug teaches her that, like the color purple, she is God made manifest; unfortunately, Shug is the same one who later on seeks to diminish Celie by treating her like love’s revolving door — desiring to leave her temporarily for a hot boy toy, but by then Celie was strong enough to part ways with the diva, and demonstrate knowledge of her worth.
After admiring the strength of the women around her — including Sofia (effectively her sister-in-law) and Shug — Celie realized that women don’t have to play a subservient role to men, though she had long assumed so because of her history as an abused female, first by her step father and later by Mister.
In the end, Celie finds that love is simple and even endearing, but loving is complicated.
Through her, we learn that, before giving oneself up to a feeling, it is best to know and love thyself — love is more resplendently shared then and possibly longer lasting.
Strength, she also learns, is transforming but must be tempered with humility and kindness. Surprisingly, even brutes like Mister can learn to wield it responsibly, renewing hope that there’s always room for transformation.
All of this is communicated with mesmerizing drama and song, so you might go into Toronto’s lovely Canon theatre with hopes of being entertained for a few hours, and not only have that expectation met, but also leave with a new understanding of the buttons that you push and have pushed in your life, for so many people carry with them an aspect of the story that’s told in The Color Purple.