The Color Purple returned to the Broadway stage, and it looks much different than it did 10 years ago. Thursday’s opening night revealed the cast singing with just a handful of chairs instead of huge set pieces at Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
Cynthia Erivo, who plays the role of Celie, told The Hollywood Reporter that the “stripped-down” set gives people a chance to focus on the “concentrated story” and not be distracted by gaudy props and set pieces. “You get to know these characters more, because there’s nothing else but them,” she said.
Compared to the $10 million show that premiered in 2005, John Doyle’s stripped-down staging–first produced by London’s Menier Chocolate Factory in 2013–follows Alice Walker’s telling of the story in her novel more closely, according to Oscar and Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson.
“You use your imagination and go on a journey, and it’s far more captivating,” Hudson explained at the Copacabana afterparty, according to THR. “And as actors, it puts the burden on us because all we have as props are a seat and a basket! It challenges us, and that’s why I wanted to do Broadway: to learn.”
Hudson plays the seductive Shug Avery, and she admitted that her biggest challenge was putting her own flare on the role. Hudson’s co-star Danielle Brooks, The Orange is the New Black actress who plays Sophia (the part Oprah played in the film), admitted her challenges as well.
Though she loves her Hell No and Any Little Thing numbers, Brooks said the hardest part about playing the character is what happens off the stage. “You don’t see that fight, nor do you get all the beat up eye makeup and hair. I have to create that. It’s challenging for me right now.”
Erivo said that for her, it is the split from her sister Nettie that can be challenging. “Sometimes I tip too far over and I can’t control what happens to my voice or my body or tears. I have a sister, and when you’re in it and you’re telling the truth, it feels like it’s my sister being taken away from me.”
The actresses may have certain challenges in playing their parts, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The show really gets the crowd on their feet. On the opening night, the audience didn’t wait until curtain call to give a standing ovation; they were drawn to their feet after a number by Cynthia Erivo in the second act, according to Variety.
Brooks explained that that was nothing. She said that “audiences are even crazier” sometimes. “One time we got three standing ovations.”
But Thursday’s audience wasn’t your average one. The Oprah Winfrey-produced show drew in several big stars such as Gloria Steinem, Phylicia Rashad, Neil Patrick Harris, Shanice Williams and Brook’s Orange is the New Black castmates Samira Wiley, Taylor Schilling, Kate Mulgrew, Laverne Cox and Lea DeLaria.
Yet, they were still on their feet! And who wouldn’t be with this INCREDIBLY talented cast?
Plus, the show is relevant. According to Brooks, that’s the best part.
“Especially with everything going on in society right now–war, all the police brutality,” she said. “The beauty of it is you see someone that was so strong, get beat up and then find themselves rejuvenated in their own strength again. It speaks to where we are as a country, and as individuals, to really find your self-love and forgiveness, and those things we’re constantly battling to find as human beings.”
Beautifully said, Brooks. The power of performance art is amazing!
Want to know more about the show? Read a review here. And watch these show clips below!