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Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Well whaddya know, Oprah has done it again! As I expected, an appearance on The Oprah show has caused a spike in ticket sales for The Color Purple on Broadway. Advanced ticket sales for both single ticket and group sales have each reached $1 million. Naturally, the show is well represented on Oprah's website with a ticker clock down to the very second before the show opens at The Broadway Theatre. It will certainly be interesting to see how the show does...financially it will have a decent run, but how will the Broadway community react to it? Will it be any different than any musical this season or are my expectations...different because of who is involved?

I suspect that the show will do relatively well for a few reasons. It goes without saying that Oprah's name above the title as the sole presenting producer is the best publicity a show could ask for. As I mentioned above, the show will easily sell out for a decent amount of time. I wonder though, if people who are going to see the show are going because they really remeber the film or the novel as being as incredible to them as it was to Oprah. Or do they even care/remember? Likely not because much of society has such faith in Oprah's words that they will do whatever she says. She is a trustworthy source and has been so for the last 20 years that people really do have blind faith in her. Heck, cattlemen freaked out a few years ago after a comment she made on her show about mad-cow disease, so it is obvious just how influential we think she can be on society.

Just because Oprah has attached her name to a Broadway show, how does this now affect the greater Broadway community? Artistically, it will likely not affect anyone/thing. There are shows out there like Jersey Boys (based on the life of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons) which I personally think was produced only to attract tourists to Broadway with a familiar tune. I really don't think Jersey Boys is for the true Broadway aficionado. Though I haven't actually seen said show, it is to me, just another pop-songbook show whose intent is to reach more of the music fans versus the theatre fan. In recent years, audiences from Broadway to Vegas have seen shows like, Mamma Mia!, Movin' Out, Lennon, We Will Rock You, while the only show with any real staying power being Mamma Mia!. What is that will set The Color Purple apart from other shows? How will the show's book and score measure up?

Of the book writer and composer/lyricist team, only Pulitzer Prize winning Playwright, Marsha Norman (bookwriter) has any real experience working on the Broadway stage. Though they haven't written for the stage, the compser/lyricist team of Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray are each known for their mainstream songwriting contributions. Is it right for me, a theatre snob, to penalize the composer/lyricist team for their lack of writing for the stage or to applaud them for branching out to write for a new genre? Look at David Yazbek. He was known for his work for everything other than in the Broadway genre, but he has written some of the most clever and witty lyrics in The Full Monty and more specifically in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I think, his work is refreshing and a great addition to the Broadway landscape. When he first burst onto the scene with The Full Monty, I wanted to look down on him, but I couldn't because he followed up a decent show with an even better one (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) both musically and lyrically. Though I not-so-secretly want to judge Russell, Willis and Bray, I should give the trio a fair chance to prove (in my own mind at least) that their work belongs on the Broadway stage.

In an attempt to heed my own advice, I took a careful listen to The Color Purple's title song and briefly studied some of the lyrics (a sample is below) and found it lyrically, to be much more descriptive than I thought it was in my first listen because I unfairly judged the song the first time around. The music from the show is catchy based on the three downloadable tracks on the show's official website.

It's hard to find a good Broadway show these days worthy of praise. There is a lot of crap out there and very few jems which is why so many shows are being revived. Though I doubt that The Color Purple will be thought of as a classic show in years to come, so far, I think it is decent and probaly one of the better debuts this coming Broadway season (particularly if you compare it to what else is set to debut this season -- see the 2005-06 announced Broadway season on I suspect, that the show will do well at Tony Awards, Oprah or no Oprah. As I said before, if Oprah is bringing a renewed awareness to the Broadway stage nationwide...then by golly I'm all for it and...brava, Madame!

* * *

The Color Purple

by: Russell, Willis and Bray

...God is the flowers and everything else.

That was a ‘ever will be.

And when you feel the truth so real.

And when you love the way you feel,

You’ve found it.

Just as sure as moonlight blessed the night.

Rising like the sun.

Is the hope that sets me free.

My whole world begin to shine.

When we share love.

It take a grain of love,

To make a mighty tree.

Even the smallest voice,

Can make a harmony.

Like a drop of water,

Keep the river high.

There are miracles for you and I.

Like the blade of corn,

Like a honey bee,

Like a waterfall,

All a part of me.

Like the color purple,

Where do it come from?

Now my eyes are open

Look what God has done!...

* * *


Martin Wright said...

Why slag off Jersey Boys when you haven't seen it? JB is not a jukebox musical. It is a play based on the true story of the 4 Seasons in which some of the group's songs appear as performance pieces. So it's completely different from the Mamma Mia format, which shoehorns songs into a silly contrived plot. Sorry to upset you but Jersey boys is currently a hotter ticket than Colour Purple.

chizi said...

Jersey Boys may very well be a hotter ticket than The Color Purple (right now), but that's irrelevant to me. When it all comes down to it, I'm talking about what makes a good show technically and stylistically. A show with repurposed song(s) designed to fit into the mold of a show isn't what I would call good theatre (for me). JB may not be Mamma Mia!, but there are a lot of musicals on the stage right now, that just aren't that good for the reason I've just listed (and trust me, I've seen them).

You're correct Martin, I don't have the right to judge a show particularly if I haven't even seen it. But I have expectations when it comes to seeing a live show. I'm looking for something that is not only entertaining but thought provoking; intricate yet simple (and I'm not talking about just the storyline, but the music's technical aspect too). JRB's "The Last Five Years," Sondheim's "Into the Woods" and Ahrens & Flaherty's "Ragtime" are just a few musicals that fit that description that come to mind.

Shows like Phantom (which I know will soon be the longest running show on Broadway) are fine...simple, easy entertainment. But when I go to see a musical, I don't always want simple, easy entertainment. I want to see something that will change me.

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