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Broadway Black History Musical

Retrospective: The Color Purple

Broadway Black

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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.

Elisabeth Withers-Mendes – “Push Da Button” – THE COLOR PURPLE ( Letterman 16-Nov-05)

Elisabeth Withers-Mendes and the Broadway cast of THE COLOR PURPLE perform “Push Da Button” (written by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray) on Late Show with David Letterman. Airdate: November 16, 2005

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.

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Broadway Black History Musical

Isaiah Johnson Joins Reading of “Reginald”

Jerrica White

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Isaiah Johnson is set to lead a reading of Reginald: From Baltimore to Billionaire, which is based on the life of Reginald F. Lewis.

In case you missed this day in history class, Reginald F. Lewis is the first Black billionaire. He rose to affluence in the ’80s and died at the age of 50. Over his 5 decades of life, Reginald attended Harvard Law and achieved his status through his corporate acquisitions. He left his legacy through philanthropic efforts, donating millions of dollars each year to a number of institutions, from homeless shelters to neighborhood churches.

Written by Kevin Ray Johnson, Reginald takes us on a journey from childhood to billionaire status, and the struggles of life he faced in between. Isaiah joins the cast as Reginald F. Lewis. Lora Nicolas will play Loida Nicolas-Lewis, the wife of Reginald F. Lewis. The rest of the cast includes: Jessica Frances Dukes (Booty Candy at Playwrights Horizons), Savannah Frazier (Amazing Grace), Troy Hopper, Matt Welsh, Joe Sergio, Emily Bailey and Timothy-Michael Chastain.

The reading will be held Monday August 15th, 7:00 pm at Shetler Studios Penthouse 2.

Johnson is currently wondering how a man can do good, when all he knows is bad, under “Celie’s Curse” as Mister in the Tony-winning best revival of The Color Purple. Before The Color Purple, Johnson was seen in The Winter’s Tale, Peter and The Starcatcher, and The Merchant of Venice as Prince of Morocco.

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A Must See

Smokey Joe’s Cafe Sets Broadway Return

Broadway Black

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The longest-running musical revue to play Broadway is making a triumphant return this summer as producers announced the comeback of hit revue Smokey Joe’s Cafe.

The Jukebox musical that garnered Tony award nominations for Broadway Black stars Victor Trent Cook, B.J. Crosby and the illustrious Brenda Braxton, is set for a revival, with rehearsals starting around the end of May, according to an Actors Equity audition posting.  Previews are scheduled for July 19

Original producers Richard Frankel, Steve Baruch, Tom Viertel and Marc Routh are joining original cast Tony-nominated director Jerry Zaks to revive the hit revue.   The show features songs by writers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, including fan favorites “Hound Dog,”  “Jailhouse Rock,” “I’m a Woman,” and “On Broadway.”  After Midnight Choreographer,Warren Carlyle, has also signed on, along with musical direction by Sonny Paladino.

Smokey Joe’s opened on Broadway March 2, 1995 and despite harsh critical reviews, had substantial commercial success.   The revue earned five Tony award nominations in 1995 including Best Featured Actress, Best Featured Actor, Best Choreography, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Musical.  It also won the Grammy for Best Musical Show Album in 1996.  After a nearly five year run and a bevy of special appearances, including Gloria Gaynor, Lou Rawls and Gladys Knight, the show closed Jan of 2000 after 2,036 performances.

In 2014, nearly 20 years after the first performance, Braxton directed original cast members for reunion concert performance of Smokey Joe’s at the famed Feinstein’s/ 54 Below.

“There’s so much history with us,” Braxton shared with the second of two sold-out crowds. “We weren’t just [together] on Broadway, we were a family.”

Production has yet to announce a venue.

Be sure to check in with Broadway Black for all the latest information!

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