A Love Song in the Darkness

DISCLAIMER: This is about the musical The Color Purple. If you have managed to remain unspoiled on the details, don’t let me ruin it for you. Just go see it.


I did a thing a few weeks ago I have done a hundred times before. I sat down in the dark with a thousand strangers, and let myself be carried off. Theater does that for me in a way few other things can. Though, sometimes it is only a hundred other people. Sometimes, twenty.

I was seeing The Color Purple for the first time. The musical, not the movie. I try to keep up on theater (and lesbians), but, by some miracle of fate, I had managed to remain unspoiled.

I am the type of person, you see, who buys cast albums after I see something on-stage, not before. To me, that would be like reading the last page of a novel before I read the first word. When there is something I truly want to see or experience, I like to leave room for surprise. You can know too much.

How much surprise could there possibly be, though, from a property that had been around almost as long as I had? Something that was a classic before I learned to read, based on a story I already knew?

As it turns out, there was some surprise left – the best kind of surprise.

Due entirely to the fact I remained unspoiled, I got to experience something three Friday nights ago that was truly profound. I was not sure how the relationship between Celie and Shug would play out on the stage. I had seen the movie, of course, and I knew how it didn’t on-screen in Hollywood’s adaptation.

So, as we reached the end of the first act, and the opening lines of “What About Love?,” I began to cry. Three days earlier, I had turned thirty-seven, and, sitting there in the very last row of that theater, it struck me that I had never seen a love song between two women on-stage. In all my years of going to the theater. In all the theater I had seen.

I have seen lesbian characters. More than most people, I suspect. Though, not on Broadway.

I’ve seen Rent, but “Take Me or Leave Me”? Not a love song. Not like I want.

Watching Celie and Shug sing that song – a true wrap-you-up-in-its-rising-romance-and-elevate-you-to-a-different-plane Broadway-style love song – for once, I was the one getting to fall in love. As much as it was anyone else’s, the song was mine to sing.

That song, it is never inevitable for us. Lesbian relationships have been erased and altered as often as they have been written. Even in stories about us. Written by us. Meant for us.

Is The Color Purple a perfect lesbian love story? Not by any stretch of the imagination. The musical bears many of the same problems that plague the movie, and, to some extent, the source material. The relationship between Celie and Shug is largely downplayed. Queer women suffer. Men get in the way.

For a moment, though – a song – it did not matter what came after. It did not matter what came before. For four minutes on a Friday night, two women on a Broadway stage shared the kind of love people get to sing about.

And it was everything I dreamed it could be.

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