With thoughts now turning to Miss Celie, Harpo and spring in Chicago, the in-box is full of questions about the Chicago production of the Broadway musical "The Color Purple," slated to arrive at the Cadillac Palace Theatre on April 17. If you're thinking about dropping big bucks for some tix, here's our unofficial guide to all you need to know.
The posters say "The Color Purple." Is this the movie?
No--it's the live Broadway musical version. The source material is both the 1982 Alice Walker novel and the 1985 Steven Spielberg film--the latter of which unleashed Oprah Winfrey the actress on the world. Winfrey, incidentally, is a producer of the live show.
That's why it says "Oprah Winfrey Presents The Color Purple." But Winfrey didn't originate the project--it was the brainchild of producer Scott Sanders, a guy smart and modest enough to know that Winfrey's name would sell more tickets above the title.
So is this Chicago version the same as the one on Broadway. Or is it some low-rent knock-off?
It will likely be a duplication of the entire production still playing in New York--with some minor consolidations to facilitate moving elsewhere after the run. The Chicago production will even feature Felicia P. Fields, the original Sofia in New York--a Tony nominee and the best actress in the original cast. Much of the rest of the cast will be different in Chicago, of course. But unlike some Broadway musicals, this is not a show especially dependent on individual performers. As with "Wicked" down the street, you'll essentially be buying the same show as the people in New York see, but at slightly cheaper prices.
Can I see it elsewhere?
No. As of April, the show will run only in New York and Chicago. A tour follows at the end of 2007, but it will move very slowly and stick to major cities, at least initially.
Is it suitable for families?
The show is more family-friendly than the movie. But as anyone who knows the novel understands, this is serious material, albeit with an inspiring end. It's fine for teenagers and above.
How long will it be here? Is it an open-ended run like "Wicked"?
That's a tricky question. Tickets are currently on sale through July 8, but you can expect to see those sudden "extensions." As of this writing, "The Color Purple" has committed to a 26-week run in Chicago, after which it will set off on a national tour. There is a chance that the company will remain here on a permanent basis. But that would require Sanders to open another company for his tour. That's what "Wicked' did, of course. But in the case of "Color Purple," that decision has yet to be made. Best to figure on the 26 weeks at this point. But if the demand is there ...
Do I need to worry about getting tickets now?
If you want prime weekend performances in the spring, yes. Most Saturday nights are close to sold out--and so are most of the weekend matinees.
Remember that more tickets will open up after July 8 (no news yet on when that will happen), but it's probably fair to say that this will be a hot ticket, in the early weeks at least. Advance sales in Chicago already total in excess of $7 million--and that's four months in advance of the first Chicago performance. Group business is said to be especially strong. And if Winfrey dedicates all or part of another "Oprah Winfrey Show" to the Chicago production, you'd better believe sales will go through the roof. But that's an "if."
Is the show any good?
Most critics--including this critic--gave the New York production mixed or mixed-to-positive reviews. And it didn't sweep the Tony Awards, by any means. But if you think that popularity and word of mouth is a better guide, "The Color Purple" is unequivocally a huge hit. People from all across the East Coast travel to New York just to see the show--and it's likely that the Chicago production will draw church groups and individuals from throughout the Midwest. For sure, the show is a warm and emotional rendition of the Walker novel and tells the original story in song.
Will I see Oprah at the theater?
If you go on the May 3 press opening--or hang out on Randolph Street before or after--you just might. And where Oprah goes, other celebrities tend to follow. In New York, her presence on opening night caused a near riot on Broadway. But she's not in the show, nor will she be taking your ticket at the door.