Casting will boost flagging box office of 'Purple'

“American Idol” season three winner Fantasia Barrino steps into the lead role of “The Color Purple” on Broadway April 10.

Announcement was made on the Thursday episode of “Idol,” during which Barrino sang a re-orchestrated version of “I’m Here,” the 11 o’clock number sung by Celie, the character she will play in “Purple.”

Replacement casting of one of “Idol’s” best-known alums is aimed at boosting the box office of “Purple,” which has flagged in recent months despite an initial run of strong sales. Although the $11 million tuner, which opened Nov. 1, 2005, recouped in little more than a year, last month the weekly gross dipped below the $500,000 mark.

Announcing Barrino’s casting on TV juggernaut “Idol” was a canny move by “Purple” producers to keep the production’s national profile high. Prior to landing on Broadway, “Purple” got a huge publicity bump when Oprah Winfrey signed on as a producer.

Barrino is skedded to appear on Winfrey’s show Feb. 28, in part to discuss her Rialto debut.

LaChanze won a 2006 Tony playing Celie. Whoopi Goldberg took on the part in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 movie adaptation of Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer-winning novel.

Barrino was the winner of the third season of “Idol.” She went on to record two albums, the first of which featured a single, “I Believe,” that debuted at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The 22-year-old also has written a memoir and starred in a Lifetime telepic of her own story.

Other Broadway productions have had luck with “Idol” vets. Diana DeGarmo, another contestant on the third season of the show, gave “Hairspray” a moderate rise in sales. Josh Strickland stars in “Tarzan,” while Constantine Maroulis (“The Wedding Singer”) and Frenchie Davis (“Rent”) also have had stints on the Rialto.

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