Photo Credit: Lyn Hughes
As Broadway prepares for the return of The Color Purple this fall, let’s look back at the history of this incredible American story and its impact over the years.
The Color Purple is a novel written by Alice Walker. Born in 1944 to parents who were Georgia sharecroppers, Walker was riveted by stories from her parents, grandparents, and extended family about their youth and childhood experiences. However, she did not see any of these types of stories represented in literature at the time. Walker wanted to write a novel describing the struggles of 3 generations of Georgia sharecroppers and was determined to have their stories heard in their speech. In a recent Huffington Post interview, Walker says, “What I would like people to understand when they read The Color Purple, is that there are all these terrible things that can actually happen to us, and yet life is so incredibly magical and abundant and present that we can still be very happy.”
The novel was published in 1982 and became an international best seller with over 5 million copies sold. The following year, it won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. This reception garnered the attention of filmmaker Steven Spielberg who met with Walker with the hope of adapting her novel into a film. In 1985, The Color Purple premiered in movie theaters and starred Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and introduced film audiences to Whoopi Goldberg as ‘Celie’. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, but won none- however, it has stood the test of time becoming one of the most iconic films in the American cinema.
Nearly 20 years after the novel was published, Walker was approached by producer Scott Sanders about adapting her book into a Broadway musical. Walker was initially reluctant to this idea and took some convincing from Sanders that it could be an amazing concept. After some time, she gave her consent and it took almost 2 years to assemble a creative team. It was important to Sanders that this team included artists of color and female artists as it would best capture this story. Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Marsha Norman (‘night, Mother) penned the book for the show, with music and lyrics by Stephen Bray, Allee Wills and Brenda Russell; Gary Griffin signed on as director with Donald Byrd choreographing; music director extraordinaire Linda Twine also joined the creative team. The production gained another producer in Quincy Jones who composed the music for the 1985 film, and had its out-of-town tryout in 2004 at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. The following year, Oprah Winfrey joined the production team and in 2005, Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Color Purple debuted on Broadway. The production earned 10 Tony nominations in 2006 and LaChanze won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for her portayal of ‘Celie’.
In addition to its 3-year Broadway run, The Color Purple went on to 3 national tours, several regional productions, and in 2013- John Doyle directed the London production at the Meiner Chocolate Factory starring Cynthia Erivo as ‘Celie’. It is this production that is inspiring the upcoming Broadway revival this fall with Erivo reprising her role and joined by Jennifer Hudson as ‘Shug’ and Danielle Brooks as ‘Sophia’.
Now that we are all caught up on the extensive history of this phenomenal piece, be sure to get your tickets to The Color Purple which begins previews November 10! Visit www.colorpurple.com for more details.
Can’t wait til November? Check out the production trailer here