It went from being conveyed through manuscript, to being portrayed through the silver screen, and now it’s chronicled live, uncut, and in person. The Color Purple, Alice Walker’s narrative of a poor, young, uneducated, black woman, is now on Broadway as a musical.
Opening on December 1st, 2005, The Color Purple: A New Musical was not the first musical adaptation of the Walker’s novel, but it was its initial appearance on Broadway, and was unveiled to a full house. The story itself became most popular when it went to the box office through Stephen Spielberg’s conception of Alice Walker’s tale, and starred Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. Fittingly enough, Ms. Winfrey herself is the executive producer for the musical.
The book tells the story of Celie, the protagonist, young, black, woman, who is raped, impregnated, and beaten by her father as a child, and then is married off into a joyless, and problematical marriage. However, she is both encouraged and inspired by her sister-in-law, Sofia, to stand up against her abusive husband, much like
Sofia does herself by physically beating her husband in his attempts at physical abuse.
Celie is also inspired by a female singer who moves in to her house with her and her husband, and she becomes sexually attracted to the singer. The singer ends up uncovering some truths about Celie’s past that were being hidden from Celie by her husband via letters mailed to her.
The story continues with Celie using these untold truths as the inspiration that carries her throughout the rest of the musical to its surprising end, and to Celie’s new-fangled strength to find her place in the world. The musical incorporates many of these elements in its depiction of the story. Overflowing with invigorating singing, and heart-filled comedy, the musical takes a much more lighthearted approach to
Walker’s story. The music selection was mainly jazz, gospel and blues, and the cast was extraordinarily adept to their singing parts, as the composition was especially fitting to their capabilities. Some of the more engaging scenes in the musical are the fanatical kiss between Celie and the female singer, and Celie’s rebellion against her husband upon discovering the letters.
The opening crowd found the African dance scene to be one of the most intriguing performances, as it was filled with immense passion, beautiful choreography, and awe-inspiring dancing. It was a scene not referenced to in the book, but stunningly captivating nonetheless. LaChanze, from the Atlanta production of the musical, plays Celie, and delivers an attention grabbing performance filled with first-rate comedic dialogue and gracious singing.
In fact, her singing portrays Walker’s most important theme from the book, which is the power of narrative and voice. Through LaChanze’s singing, the audience captures Celie’s ability to express one’s thoughts and feelings, and makes the singing itself crucial to the development of Celie’s sense of identity.
The power of female relationships, racism, sexism, and the disruption of gender roles, are all apparent themes in the theatrical production that transcended the change from book from to musical, leaving nothing left out from
Walker’s original messages and motifs. However, some memorable scenes, and much loved songs, from the movie were not manifested in the musical which left some audience members disappointed.
And while the attempts at comedy in this dramatic narrative are well done, and even more incredibly received, the frequent jumping from drama to comedy caused the plot of the musical to be disjointed and incoherent at times. Furthermore, in an effort to overcome this bounding from humor to tragedy, some scenes were overly sentimental.
Taken as a whole, The Color Purple: A New Musical is a picturesque portrayal of African-American music, black culture, and the growth and hardships that people go through throughout life. The cast is extremely talented and each individual fits their character extremely well.
They are also an incredibly considerate cast, who was particularly open to talking with students and theatrical enthusiasts, and they enjoyed answering questions about the procedure of adapting the musical from the book, and the difficulty of making it separate from the movie. The Color Purple: A New Musical is currently showing at the Broadway Theatre on Tuesdays-Saturdays @ 8PM; Wednesdays & Saturdays @ 2PM; and Sundays @ 3PM.