“The Color Purple”: Timeless Classic Returns to Broadway


Broadway goers wait in line to see the classic musical. (PHOTO BY ANDRONIKA ZIMMERMAN/ THE OBSERVER)


After 11 years, “The Color Purple” has returned to the stage with a revival the New York Times called “A Miracle on Broadway.” This musical interpretation of Alice Walker’s 1982 novel of the same name follows the story of Celie, an African-American woman living in rural Georgia in the 1930s, struggling to overcome racism, sexism and abuse throughout her life. Fordham’s Residence Hall Association (RHA) hosted a “Theater Thursday” excursion to see a performance of the musical on Feb. 4, which also marked the beginning of Black History Month. A long-standing cultural tradition in America, Black History Month was institutionalized and expanded in 1976 after fifty years of one-week. It has since become month-long celebration—every president since the mid-1970s has issued formal statements endorsing the celebration. The beginning of this commemorative holiday makes February the perfect time to see and appreciate the magic of “The Color Purple”.

Alice Walker, a Georgia-born author, poet and activist, is best known for her epistolary novel “The Color Purple”, which was published in 1982. Spanning the course of 40 years, the story follows Celie through her life. The story begins with her childhood, during which time her father abused her in every conceivable way; follows her marriage to Albert, a man who does not love her but uses her as a house-maid and scapegoat; and relates her struggle to reunite with her sister who traveled to Africa to work in a mission. The novel graphically depicts the struggles of its protagonist and her friends and family, with intense sequences of abuse, racism, violence and sexuality. The book itself became the target of many censorship campaigns and earned a place on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books.

Three years after the novel was published a movie adaptation of “The Color Purple” came to the silver screen. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Whoopi Goldberg as the protagonist, as well as Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. Some people questioned the choice of bringing in Spielberg to direct, and ultimately criticized him for his choice to downplay the pro-lesbian themes from the novel. Despite this, the movie was well received by viewers and critically acclaimed, earning 10 Academy Award nominations that year.

20 years after the premiere of the film and 23 years after the novel’s first release, a musical adaptation of the novel, opened at the Broadway Theatre in New York in December of 2005. Gary Griffin directed and Oprah Winfrey continued her association with the story as one of three producers. The show received 11 Tony Award Nominations including Best Musical and Best Leading Actress in a Musical. Rhonda LaChanze Sapp, who performs with the stage name ‘LaChanze’ received the Tony for Best Leading Actress for her portrayal of Celie.

Since its original Broadway debut, “The Color Purple” has seen three national tours and a London production. In January of 2015 the producers of the London production, including Oprah Winfrey, announced that the show would be returning to Broadway. Jennifer Hudson made her Broadway debut in the role of Shug, Celie’s friend and love-interest from the novel and film. Cynthia Erivo reprised her role as Celie from the London production. Previews for the revival began in November of 2015 with the show officially opening in December. Since its previews the revival has received glimmering reviews, including enthusiastic praise from Ben Brantley, chief theatre critic of The New York Times.

The revival of “The Color Purple” has come back to Broadway at an incredibly appropriate time. Between the original musical debut in 2005 and the revival in 2015, America has seen social advancements that intimately connect to the themes the musical explores. In 2008 America elected its first African American president; in 2013 that same president reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which sets a standard for the prosecution of crimes against women and establishes the Office for Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice. In 2015 the United Stated Federal Government legalized same-sex marriage. Now that “The Color Purple” is back on Broadway, viewers can reflect on the strides this nation had made to correct the errors of the past by watching Celie overcome the adversities in her life.

February is a time to connect with our collective past as a nation. Now is a time for celebration—to acknowledge the victories we have claimed and the struggles we have overcome. “The Color Purple” is in itself a triumph and victory, and the perfect way to celebrate Black History Month.

“The Color Purple” is set to run through May of 2016 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.


In a previous version of this article it was mistakenly printed that the Broadway revival of “The Color Purple” was based more on the film than the novel. This is incorrect, the show is based more on Alice Walker’s novel and Celie’s breakthrough as portrayed in the book not the film.