We’re ready for Jennifer Hudson, Danielle Brooks, and Cynthia Erivo to hit the stage in the upcoming revival of The Color Purple on November 10. But to truly appreciate the latest Broadway run of this endearing musical, we must take a retrospective look at the original Broadway production.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker and the Steven Spielberg-directed motion picture, the musical opened at The Broadway Theatre on December 1, 2005 with a stellar cast that starred LaChanze as “Celie,” Brandon Victor Dixon as “Harpo,” Felicia P. Fields as “Sofia,” Renée Elise Goldsberry as “Nettie,” Kingsley Leggs as “Mister,” Krisha Marcano as “Squeak,” and Elisabeth Withers-Mendes as “Shug Avery.”
It was directed by Gary Griffin, produced by Scott Sanders, Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey, with choreography by Donald Byrd and musical direction by Linda Twine. Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Marsha Norman (‘night, Mother) penned the book for the show, with music and lyrics by celebrated songwriters and artists Stephen Bray, Allee Wills, and Brenda Russell.
Oprah, who was nominated for an Oscar as “Sofia” in the movie version, came on as an investor and producer before the show’s November 1 preview to expand its box office potential. Once she signed on, the show was titled Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Color Purple. At that time, her self-titled television show was a ratings juggernaut, averaging 9 million viewers per year. With Oprah’s name on the marquee, it was almost guaranteed a built-in audience.
Despite Oprah’s star power, the show opened to mixed reviews from the critics. Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote,
Time doesn’t just fly in the exhaustingly eventful world of The Color Purple, it threatens to break the sound barrier. In faithfully adapting Ms. Walker’s incident-crammed 1982 Pulitzer Prizewinner about Southern black women finding their inner warriors, the show’s creators have fashioned a bright, shiny and muscular storytelling machine that is, above all, built for speed. Watching this beat-the-clock production summons the frustrations of riding through a picturesque stretch of country in a supertrain like the TGV. Thanks to the cast’s spirited way with a song, Purple strikes some sparks during its long and winding journey. But it takes a concentration and leisure the show lacks to fan sparks into a steady flame.
From Michael Feingold of The Village Voice, “The feelings that The Color Purple may arouse in you don’t disguise the fact that they’ve been gotten in a comparatively crude and unimaginative manner. The disheartening lack of quality in the material dilutes the quality of feeling with which it’s being put over and makes the meanings behind it look questionable as well.”
On a more complimentary note, Roma Torre of NY1 wrote, “As art, the show is flawed, but it’s also so full of heart, the flaws don’t seem to matter. The Color Purple sings to the soul.”
And Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press added “Fans of Walker’s novel most likely will not be disappointed in this reverent stage retelling and will embrace it heartily as a live souvenir of the original. Others may crave a little more theatrical excitement.”
However, when it came time for the Tony Awards nominations, the production received tremendous love and recognition, receiving 11 nominations, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. LaChanze won the Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.
The Color Purple closed on February 24, 2008, after 30 previews and 910 regular performances. The Broadway production recouped its $11 million investment within its first year on Broadway. After its three-year Broadway run, the show went on to three national tours and several regional productions. In 2013, John Doyle directed the London production at the Meiner Chocolate Factory starring Erivo as “Celie.” It is this production that is inspiring the Broadway revival this fall.
For tickets to this upcoming production, click HERE.