By Linda Armstrong
I’m sure you’ve heard by now that the Alice Walker novel, The Color Purple is coming to Broadway as a musical. This is very exciting news, as this will be the first time that The Color Purple is mounted in a stage production. This production also represents several Broadway debuts-Oprah Winfrey makes her debut as a Broadway producer-and is in the company of a number of other producers including Quincy Jones. The star, LaChanze, who plays Celie, is making her Broadway debut, as are some of her fellow cast members-Elisabeth Withers, who plays Shug and Felicia P. Fields, who portrays Sofia. There are 25 songs in the production, which are the creations of Allee Willis and African-Americans-Stephen Bray and Brenda Russell. Russell is making her debut as a Broadway music lyricist. This musical production, which puts the desperate life of Celie to music, has amazing choreography from Donald Byrd, who is making his Broadway choreographing debut. Another person making his debut is that of director Gary Griffin. Bringing The Color Purple to Broadway and as a musical was the idea of one of the show’s producers, Scott Sanders. It took Sanders eight years to get everything secured, like getting it right and putting together the right creative team.
The musical will start previews today and I’m sure it’s going to be an experience to remember. How would I know? Because in October, the press was invited to an open rehearsal and the cast, songs and dances all succeeded in wowing everyone. You could feel the power, passion and faith in this production and that came from only getting to hear a sneak peek that included four scenes with six songs.
Director Griffin felt that the novel naturally leads itself to being a musical because the words sing. He and cast members LaChanze and Fields were concerned about being compared to the movie, which starred Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey, because they kept emphasizing that this is a musical and therefore completely different.
LaChanze was grateful that the production was a musical-glad for the chance to communicate the character’s emotions through the medium of song. The numbers that we experienced definitely, clearly get whatever their particular point is across. One scene occurred in a church and was filled with soul- stirring gospel songs and some contagious holy dancing. Another scene looked at the character Shug and how her not being inhibited sexually influenced people of this small Southern community. When she sings and dances to a sexually suggestive song in the jut joint, everyone got into the act. Another scene focused on the love between Sofia and Harpo, but looked at it in an amusing sort of way. The final scene let everyone experience the unbridled and overwhelming emotions of the finale, where Celie is overjoyed to be reunited with her sister Nettie and Celie’s own children, who had been taken away from her years before. There’s a happiness and healing going on in that final scene that you can feel.
The Color Purple will officially open on Dec. 1 at the Broadway Theater on Broadway at 53rd Street. If you know that “Black is Beautiful” you will love watching this entirely Black cast, take to the stage. For tickets to “The Color Purple call 212-239-6200.
By Linda Armstrong