The Color Purple: The Musical returns to Broadway

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Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple, was published in 1982 and she won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction in 1983. Walker was born in Georgia and drew on personal experiences for her book. Her father was a sharecropper and dairy farmer and her mother worked as a maid. Alice graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and became involved in the civil rights movement. She married a Jewish civil rights lawyer and moved to Mississippi, becoming the first legal interracial couple in the state.

The book takes place in rural Georgia in the 1930’s and highlights the sexism and racism of the time. Women were basically people who cooked and cleaned and looked after the children when they weren’t needed for sex. The protagonist, Celie, is brow beaten and abused her whole life but through the help of other women, she is able to break away from her fear and use her anger to move on and be self -sufficient. Through all the pain and suffering there is hope in the end.

Celie’s sister, Nettie, spends time in Africa as part of a missionary family and writes letters to Celie on a regular basis. Celie’s husband hides the letters and she thinks her sister is dead. When, decades later, Celie gets hold of the letters, she reads them all at once. Through these letters she learns that the women in Africa are also treated as lesser beings and not sent to school.

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The movie, The Color Purple, came out in 1985 with Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. It had 11 Oscar nominations and received none. It tied with The Turning Point as the Oscar’s biggest looser. When Whoopi Goldberg received her Grammy for Comedy Album, she said the Academy was “a small bunch of people with small minds who chose to ignore the obvious”.

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The Color Purple, the musical, was written by Marsha Normal with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. It premiered in Georgia in 2004 and ran on Broadway from 2005-2008. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards. LaChanze won the Tony for Best Actress. It is a play with two Acts and features about 30 musical numbers.

I went to see a local production of the musical at the Park Square Theater in St Paul, Minnesota, this last weekend. The cast was incredibly talented with many awards between them. I was a little leery of going to see this since I was having trouble visualizing the story as a musical but I am glad I went. The production was full of energy laced with humor and rousing, uplifting music.

This fall, the musical will return to Broadway with Jennifer Hudson in the role of Shug Avery. The rest of the cast has yet to be set. If you get a chance, go and see it.

 

 

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