When The Color Purple arrived in theaters in 1985, it marked a change of pace from Steven Spielberg’s typical blockbusters. The period drama was based on the best-selling novel by renowned author Alice Walker, who served as a consultant and writer on the film. The film went on to become a critical and commercial hit, grossing $142 million worldwide and earned 11 Oscar nominations. The acclaimed film continued to live on as its legacy and popularity grew. That led to an original stage musical being brought to Broadway in 2005, and the stage adaptation’s successful run led to a revival in 2015 with talks of a film version surfacing in 2018. After years of development, the musical film is finally moving forward.
With The Color Purple heading into production, the musical remake already has a release date set for Dec. 23, 2023. It is currently unknown if the musical film will lean more into the 1985 film, the original stage production or the book. For now, we do know who will make up the musical adaptation’s main cast. Let’s see who are the new and familiar faces that will bring a new take on these iconic film characters.
Fantasia Barrino’s Celie Harris serves as the protagonist and vessel for the long-suffering struggles of Black women in the early 1900s, including racism, sexism, incest and domestic abuse. In every outlet, Harris transitions from a meek teenage girl to a self-sufficient woman. She escapes the abuse of her father into the life of her equally abusive husband Mister. She eventually breaks away from Mister and his miserable family for a life filled with love and respect. The apex of her fight for independence in the musical is the signature tune “I’m Here.”
But tackling the tune would be nothing new for the American Idol winner, as she became a replacement during The Color Purple‘s original Broadway run. Whoopi Goldberg originated the role in the 1985 film, which scored her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. The part is considered one of the Oscar winner’s best performances.
As the main antagonist in the original book, as well as every adaptation, Albert Johnson, a.k.a. Mister, loses his first wife and needed a mother for his children, and that’s where Celie came in. He treats Celie more like a servant for his family rather than his second wife. Eventually his relationship with Celie becomes the catalyst for her to forge her independence. He ends up redeeming himself similarly to the 1985 movie after changing his ways and helping Celie reunite with her sister Nettie. It will be up to Zola’s Colman Domingo to breathe new life into this universally hated character.
Unlike Fantasia Barrino, Domingo has never crossed paths with The Color Purple stage musical. The Zola star will be following in the footsteps of Danny Glover, who played the troubled patriarch in the 1985 coming-of-age drama.
As The Color Purple’s Sofia, Danielle Brooks will serve as the opposite of Celie Harris with her strong-willed and outspoken nature. Sofia is the wife of Mister’s eldest son Harpo (wedded as a teenager, much like Celie). After a series of domestic violence incidents with Harpo (due to some not-so sage advice from Celie), Sofia packs up her things (and her children) and heads out for good with her signature song “Hell No!” After disappearing for a time, she sporadically returns throughout the musical culminating in a reunion with Harpo after her stint as the Mayor’s indentured servant.
Much like Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, who stars in HBO Max’s Peacemaker, originated the role of Sofia in the 2015 Broadway revival. Talk show icon Oprah Winfrey played the role originally in the 1985 film adaptation, which earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
Harpo is the eldest and the most visible of Mister’s children, who Corey Hawkins will take on. He tries following in his father’s footsteps after marrying the headstrong Sofia, but he isn’t as assertive and domineering, so his teen bride runs over him. Eventually his relationship with Sofia becomes mutually abusive after taking some advice from Celie. After Sofia leaves and takes their children, he comes into his own by opening a juke joint, leading to Shug’s introduction and his signature number “Brown Betty.” Harpo moves on with his girlfriend and barmaid Squeak. Eventually, Squeak leaves him, leading to his second chance with Sofia.
Corey Hawkins already showed his musical chops in another film adaptation of a hit Broadway musical as Benny in In the Heights. The Straight Outta Compton star joining the musical has been reported since last year, so his casting news was expected. Hawkins will follow in the footsteps of William Pugh, who played Mister’s passive son in the 1985 coming-of-age drama.
Taraji P. Henson
Taraji P. Henson playing the free-spirited singer Shug Avery makes profound sense. Shug’s relationship with Celie and Mister catalyzes a shift in the story. As Johnson’s long-time mistress, Avery and Celie have a rough start before becoming friends. As time moves on, their relationship evolves into a romantic one as Celie begins breaking away from Mister’s controlling ways. Shug shares multiple musical moments with Celie while vamping it up in the fan-favorite tune “Push Da Button.”
Taking on The Color Purple is right up Taraji P. Henson’s alley given her display of musical talent on various occasions. Margaret Avery originated the role in the 1985 film adaptation, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Much like her character in grown-ish, Halle Bailey will be her sister’s keeper as Celie’s younger sister Nettie in The Color Purple. Nettie and Celie grow up being sexually and physically abused by their father. Initially the two sisters are reunited after Nettie escapes their abusive father to live with Celie and Mister, but sexual advancements from Mister lead to her being unceremoniously removed from their home. Nettie has very few musical moments due to her early exit outside of her earlier numbers with Celie. She eventually reunites with Celie for her triumphant return in the finale.
Of course, viewers know of Halle Bailey’s work in television and music, and her addition to the cast was approved by Oprah Winfrey. Bailey’s Nettie was originally played by Akosua Busia in the Oscar-nominated film. Before The Color Purple drops, Bailey will play Ariel in the live-action adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, which the actress celebrated wrapping up last year.
H.E.R.’s mysterious aura will work two-fold as the silent and spirited Squeak. She enters the picture after Sofia leaves Harpo and begins a romantic relationship with him. Though her presence is small, she plays an important part in raising Harpo and Sofia’s children after Sofia is imprisoned for an altercation with the Mayor. Eventually Squeak finds her voice, and she decides to leave Harpo and pursue a professional singing career. Due to her minor nature in the story, Squeak doesn’t have as many musical numbers.
The musical remake will mark the Grammy and Oscar-winning singer’s feature film debut. Rae Dawn Chong originally played the role of Harpo’s girlfriend in the 1985 film.
With the musical remake set to be released on Dec. 23, 2023, it is unclear when production on the film will commence. Of course, viewers will be singing along as Celie goes through her painful journey to finding her identity. If you want to see what other musicals are on the horizon, you can check out our schedule of 2022 movie releases. To stay updated on any news surrounding The Color Purple, come back to CinemaBlend for the latest developments.