'The Color Purple' swings into Boston

Victoria Leenders-Cheng | 6/10/2009, 6:56 a.m.

Members of the cast of the first national tour of “The Color Purple: The Musical about Love” perform “Miss Celie’s Pants,” one of many numbers in the show. The touring production opens its two-week run in Boston at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre this coming Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (Paul Kolnik photos)

(From left): Celie (Kenita R. Miller), Sofia (Felicia P. Fields) and Buster (Lesly Terrell Donald) share a moment in this scene from the first national tour of the hit musical “The Color Purple,” the smash stage adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel.
Members of the cast of “The Color Purple: The Musical about Love” perform the song “African Homeland.” There are 29 musical numbers in the production, each a lively and integral part of the show. One-time “American Idol” finalist LaToya London, who plays the role of Nettie in the production, called the music in the show “just incredible.”

“The Color Purple: The Musical about Love” opens with a gust of blaring horns, whining harmonicas, soaring voices and honky-tonk piano. The production, which begins its two-week Boston engagement on Tuesday, June 16, features 29 musical numbers, each a lively and integral part of the show.

Cast member and one-time “American Idol” finalist LaToya London gushed when asked to describe the music in “The Color Purple.”

“The music is just incredible,” she said, her voice softening with awe as she paid homage to Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film version of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. “I was very surprised they weren’t using the same music as in the movie … and I wondered how that would go over. But the music [in the Broadway version] is so good, you don’t realize you’re not hearing the same music.”

Producer Scott Sanders spent eight years obtaining permission to create a musical of “The Color Purple.” Walker’s story follows Celie, a woman abused by her father, sold into marriage and separated from her children and sister. Sanders’ greatest challenge was convincing potential producers that a Broadway version could measure up to the critically-acclaimed book and film.

Music was a crucial element from the start. As is recounted in the musical’s companion memory book, Sanders wanted to set “The Color Purple” to lyrics and melodies because he believed that “music is a way to express emotions that transcend words, and that the message, the heartbeat of Walker’s story … sang.”