By Kristi Casey Sanders
Susan Booth, the Alliance Theatre’s artistic director, traveled to New York in 2005 for the Broadway premiere of The Color Purple, which had its workshop and world premiere at her theater the year before. “I had this great experience,” Booth says. “This woman – who will go nameless – was there from Atlanta. In the lobby, she caught up with me and said, ‘We have to bring this to Atlanta.’
“I don’t know if she didn’t know it already had been in Atlanta or if she forgot. But I think what elicited the comment was in watching the show, she thought … ‘what a perfect show for Atlanta.’ What made it perfect for the Alliance was still at the heart of what you saw in the Broadway show.”
What remains at the heart of The Color Purple is a story about love and home that gives its characters a chance to redeem themselves. “We love redemptive stories of love and home in Atlanta,” Booth says. “We talk about finding plays that start at the heart and travel to the head – that’s an Atlanta play. The theater has developed a strong, growing identity as a breeding ground for major new musicals, and each project renders the organization better equipped and better known for the next one. Now artists [think of the Alliance] as a safe, nurturing and courageous place for new work.”
That commitment to new work helped the Alliance earn the 2007 Regional Theatre Tony Award for outstanding achievement. “It didn’t change us,” Booth says. “If anything, it told us we were on the right track.” The biggest difference is that now, instead of having to lobby for years to earn the right to produce high-profile projects like The Color Purple, the Alliance is the one being pursued.
For more information about the Alliance Theatre, visit alliancetheatre.org.
The Color Purple’s journey from Atlanta to Broadway and back again
- Summer 2004: Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre begins workshops of a new musical version of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, by special arrangement with Creative Battery and Scott Sanders Productions.
- Sept. 9, 2004: The Color Purple: A Musical About Love opens at the Alliance Theatre, directed by Gary Griffin; with music and lyrics written by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray; choreography by Ken Roberson (later replaced by Donald Byrd); and a book by Marsha Norman.
- Dec. 1, 2005: The Color Purple opens on Broadway at the Broadway Theatre, earning 11 Tony Award nominations. It is produced by Scott Sanders, Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey.
- April 17, 2007: The national tour opens at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago, with Jeannette Bayardelle (Celie) and Felicia P. Fields (Sophia) reprising their roles from Broadway.
- Feb. 24, 2008: The Broadway run closes after 30 previews and 910 regular performances.
- July 15-Aug. 3, 2008: The Color Purple returns to Atlanta to play The Fox Theatre. To date, the show has earned more than $103 million.