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At On The Stage, we take pride in acknowledging the accomplishments and contributions of trailblazers and pioneers in the performing arts industry. These individuals have paved the way for future generations and have left an indelible mark on the art industry we have today. Today, we will take a closer look at the story of not one, but two such trailblazers and celebrate their enormous achievements. Join us in honoring the legacy of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Cynthia Erivo’s amazing performance, as we dive into the lasting impact they both have had on the world of performing arts.
Alice Walker is an acclaimed American author and activist, best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Color Purple”. Born in Georgia in 1944, Walker was the youngest of eight siblings and grew up in a family of sharecroppers. Despite facing racism and poverty, she excelled academically and went on to attend Spelman College and later transferred to Sarah Lawrence College. Walker’s literary career began in the 1960s with her poetry collection “Once” and she went on to publish several novels, essays, and collections of poetry over the years.
“The Color Purple” is perhaps Walker’s most famous work, published in 1982. The novel tells the story of Celie, a Black woman living in rural Georgia in the early 20th century, and her journey toward self-discovery and empowerment. The book received critical acclaim and was a commercial success, selling over four million copies worldwide. It was also adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg in 1985, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey.
Alice Walker’s story has had a significant impact on American literature and culture. Her novels have been read and studied by millions of people around the world, and the Broadway musical has brought the story to a wider audience. The show’s themes of racism, sexism and empowerment continue to resonate with audiences today, making it a timeless and important work of art.
In 2005, “The Color Purple” was adapted into a Broadway musical with a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray. The show opened at the Broadway Theatre in December 2005 and ran for over two years, closing in February 2008 after 910 performances. The production was directed by Gary Griffin and starred LaChanze as Celie, alongside Renee Elise Goldsberry, Kingsley Leggs, and Felicia P. Fields.
The musical received mixed reviews from critics, with some praising the performances and music but criticizing the book’s adaptation. Despite this, the show was nominated for eleven Tony Awards in 2006, winning one for Best Actress in a Musical (LaChanze). The production also won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album in 2008. Then, in 2015, a revival of “The Color Purple” opened on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. The production was directed by John Doyle and starred Cynthia Erivo as Celie, alongside Jennifer Hudson and Danielle Brooks. This production received critical acclaim and won two Tony Awards in 2016, for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actress in a Musical (Erivo).
The Broadway production of “The Color Purple” has had a significant impact on the theatre industry, both in terms of its artistic achievements and its cultural influence. The score for “The Color Purple” incorporated elements of gospel, jazz, and blues, creating a unique and innovative sound that helped to expand the musical theatre canon. The show’s music was also notable for its strong female voices, with standout performances by LaChanze and Cynthia Erivo.
Cynthia Erivo’s impact in the Broadway revival of “The Color Purple” was significant and far-reaching. Erivo’s portrayal of Celie, the show’s main character, was praised for its authenticity, emotional depth, and vocal prowess. She brought a new level of power and nuance to the role, making it her own and earning critical acclaim and numerous accolades.
Erivo’s performance in “The Color Purple” marked her Broadway debut, and she quickly became a breakout star. Her portrayal of Celie was hailed by critics as a revelation, with many praising her ability to convey the character’s journey from a broken, abused young woman to a strong, independent one. Erivo’s powerful vocals were also a highlight of the show, with her renditions of songs like “I’m Here” and “What About Love?” bringing audiences to their feet night after night.
Beyond her impressive performance, Erivo’s impact in “The Color Purple ” also extended to the representation of Black women in theatre. As a woman of color playing a complex and fully-realized character, she challenged long standing stereotypes and helped to expand the range of roles available to Black actresses on Broadway. Her success in the show also helped to pave the way for other Black women to take on leading roles in musical theatre. Her performance earned her numerous accolades, including a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, a Drama Desk Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, and a Theatre World Award. She also received critical acclaim for her performance in the film “Harriet,” in which she played Harriet Tubman, further cementing her status as one of the most talented and respected actresses of her generation.
Cynthia Erivo’s success in the show helped to pave the way for a new generation of Black women in musical theatre, and her talent and presence continue to inspire audiences and fellow performers alike.
“The Color Purple” on Broadway helped to push the boundaries of musical theatre, challenging traditional casting practices and bringing important themes to the forefront of the industry. “The Color Purple” was notable for its diverse cast, featuring a predominantly Black ensemble and several strong female roles, which paved the way for more diverse and inclusive productions in the future. The show’s themes of empowerment, self-discovery, and overcoming adversity struck a chord with audiences of all backgrounds. “The Color Purple” helped to bring important conversations about race, gender, and power to the forefront of Broadway and showed that musical theatre could be a platform for meaningful social commentary.
Accessibility is at the heart of our mission here at On The Stage, and we are immensely grateful for trailblazers such as Alice Walker and Cynthia Erivo, who have set such amazing examples of dedication and perseverance in making the performing arts accessible to all. Their legacy serves as an inspiration to us all as we strive toward a more inclusive and equitable future for Broadway and beyond. We will continue to honor their contributions and those of countless others who have fought for accessibility in the performing arts, as we work to democratize the access of Broadway technology, expertise and resources.