“The Color Purple,” the Oprah Winfrey-produced musical that turned Fantasia into the unexpected darling of Broadway , posted its closing notice yesterday. The surprise announcement comes less than three weeks after the “American Idol” winner ended her critically and commercially hailed run in the Broadway show.
Sources tell MTV News that a movie version of the musical, starring Fantasia, is likely.
While it is common for shows to suffer a post-holiday lull in ticket sales, “The Color Purple” was unable to fill the void left when its unexpected standout star finished her contractual run January 6.
Fantasia burst onto the Great White Way in April of last year, making her Broadway debut as Celie, the used and abused Southern woman who, over the course of four decades, finds her voice and herself. It was an emotionally charged and exhaustingly compelling performance that left audiences — both regular theatergoers and Fantasia fans — completely riveted.
As her contracted run dwindled, the producers decided to give the role of Celie to an unknown actress, Zonya Love. But they also brought in more recognized stars to cover supporting roles. Versatile singing star Chaka Khan, gospel singer BeBe Winans and “American Idol” fourth-place finisher LaKisha Jones all joined the cast recently.
Because of the costs associated with putting “names” into a show, producers usually only do so if they are hoping for an extended run. But box-office receipts didn’t show any promise. According to reports, “The Color Purple” was running at 76.8 percent capacity during the holiday week of December 23. For the week of January 13, its first without Fantasia, it ran at 45.9 percent capacity.
It was an unlikely pairing: the epic Broadway musical and the talent-show winner. Since winning season three of “Idol” in 2004, Fantasia recorded two R&B albums, Free Yourself and Fantasia, neither of which seemed to showcase a future Broadway star. Indeed, at the time producers asked her to consider playing the role in New York, Fantasia had not only never seen a Broadway show, but had never seen a musical.
Music insiders, too, considered Broadway an unusual choice for Fantasia — and vice versa.
“I thought she was going off to that pasture where all the Idols go,” Keith Murphy, an editor at Vibe magazine, told MTV News back in July.
Critics, poised for the kill, instead melted. The difficult-to-please New York Times reviewers referred to her as “pretty terrific. So terrific that this earnest but mechanical musical is more effective and affecting than it was when it yawned open a year and a half ago.” Even Fantasia’s most recent album started climbing the charts — quite the opposite of going out to pasture.
While she was only supposed to do the show for six months, she re-upped to take the musical through the new year, telling MTV News, “The cast, crew and producers have been wonderful to work with and are all very supportive. I have the best of both worlds right now. I am very blessed.”
This closing comes on the heels of the demise of another once-popular show, “Rent,” which recently announced it would be closing June 1.
Contributing to the demise of these shows is the 19-day strike by the stagehands’ union , which happened in November and December of last year. Those holiday weeks are used to featherbed the lean weeks of January and February, when shows typically underperform.
Still, there is hope that “The Color Purple” will live on — with Fantasia. Though details of the possible film version of the musical are still sketchy, if it happens, it would be the fourth incarnation of Celie’s tale. The story began as a novel by Alice Walker, published in 1982, and was then adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg in 1985. That movie, which stars Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, garnered eight Academy Award nominations. The $11 million musical opened in 2005.
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