Full circle 'Purple'

More than a quarter-century after appearing in print, the characters of Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" remain as indelible as the Georgia dirt from which they were born. Read and re-read, canonized and musicalized, the Eatonton native's tale is a cultural phenomenon that has crossed generations and genres —- from book to film to Broadway musical. But no matter where it travels, "The Color Purple" always seems to come home again. After making its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre in 2004, the musical is back in Atlanta. On Tuesday night, it begins a three-week, National Black Arts Festival engagement at the Fox Theatre. Inside: "The Color Purple" comes back to Georgia. Page K3.


"The Color Purple" is having a full-circle moment. As the made-in-Atlanta musical returns to its roots, take a spin through the key moments in "Purple" history.

1982. Walker's third novel —- which opens with 14-year-old Celie's heartbreaking "Dear God" letters —- appears, winning the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and Georgia's Townsend Prize.

1985. Steven Spielberg —- then known for "E.T.," "Jaws" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" —- introduces Whoopi Goldberg as Celie and a virtually unknown Oprah Winfrey as Sofia. The film's violent portrayal of black men stirs controversy. "Spielberg takes a ghoulish delight in presenting trauma, which occupies fully 90 percent of the movie," said the AJC.

1986. The film garners 11 Academy Award nominations. But in the end, Oscar snubs it.

1996. Broadway producer Scott Sanders ("Elaine Stritch: At Liberty") approaches Walker about turning her novel into a musical. She demurs. He takes her to see some musicals and on a yacht cruise around Manhattan with a group of celebrities including Diana Ross. Walker says OK.

2000. After shopping around for creators, Sanders awards the project to Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, pop songwriters with no Broadway experience.

2004. The Alliance scores a coup: "The Color Purple" world premiere. It's purple carpet time. Show opens to mixed reviews —- "promising but uneven," says the AJC —- but sets an Alliance box-office record.

2005. Winfrey comes on as over-the-title producer. A much-revised show opens on Broadway to lukewarm notices.

2006. Nominated for 11 Tony Awards. Tony nearly snubs it. Only lead actress LaChanze wins for her portrayal of Celie.

2007. Winfrey says she's making a movie of the musical, but offers no details.

2008. Broadway run closes Feb. 24 after 910 performances. American Idol Fantasia, who replaced LaChanze on Broadway, claims she'll play Celie in the film.

2008. National tour arrives in Atlanta.

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