by George Awkard ‘25
Movies are one of the most well-received forms of entertainment in history, which makes them extremely easy to adapt. And since musicals already have a substantial and dedicated fan base, many of them have been turned into films. The Color Purple goes even further as it seamlessly has moved from paperback to the big screen, then on stage, and now back in theaters.
The film takes place in rural Georgia, spanning several decades and following the main character Celie (Fantasia Barrino), a strong and independent African-American woman. The story takes place from her adolescence to adulthood and her journey through the most painful and significant years of her life.
The musical aspect of The Color Purple enhances the story by immersing the audience in the world of Celie through enthralling songs. Tracks like “Miss Celie’s Pants” and “I’m Here” provide a glimpse into the joyous future for Celie. The Color Purple includes other stellar performances from prominent names, including R&B artist H.E.R as Squeak and actress Halle Bailey as Young Nettie. The most riveting performance, however, is by actress Danielle Brooks as Sophia, who gives an energetic rendition of the riveting track, “H*ll No!,” paired with a compelling performance of despair after being thrown into jail for 6 years.
The darker aspects of the film, however, lack the more intense elements of abuse, assault, and violence that were necessary to tell the story of Celie and the pain she experienced. The film missed the mark on how devilishly her father betrayed her and how evil the man she married was. These elements were present in the previous movie version from 1985, starring Whoopi Goldberg as Celie. Despite this shortcoming, the musical version of The Color Purple offers a powerful journey of a woman with a rich story, full of impactful musical performances, and a satisfying ending.
In the early 2000s, both musicals and movies were originals and offered brand-new stories for the viewers to immerse themselves in. However, musical producers saw movies as an opportunity to broaden their horizons and open up the stories they had created to more people.
The Color Purple is not the only movie that has been adapted, Musical theater has favored adaptation for a while now. A popular example of a movie that has been adapted into a musical is Moulin Rouge, which was directed by Baz Luhrmann and released in 2001 and adapted into a musical in 2021. The same is done with musicals adapted into movies. West Side Story debuted on Broadway in 1959 and was adapted into a movie twice, once in 1961 and again in 2021.
Musicals being made into movies can draw in audiences and grow a new following for the musical. The Color Purple was able to amass both a strong following of the original movie and new fans.
These adaptations and musical movies are extremely beneficial for producers and directors, as The Color Purple made $11.7 million in its first week in theatres. Directors are also free to change and modify an adaptation so that the story can immerse the audience, just as one would be in a live theater.
Adaptations are one of the easiest ways for a film/musical to make money and be greenlit for public release. Even if critics generally dislike your film or musical, it will still initially draw audiences just because of its name. Such is the case with Back to the Future, an 80s film classic, that was adapted into a musical on Broadway. Adaptation may only be a re-told version of the same story, but they are a great way to bridge the gap between films and musicals.