‘Color Purple’ opens at Ahmanson

Musical adaptation was a challenge

HOLLYWOOD — Opening night for “The Color Purple” at the Ahmanson Theater on Sunday brought out a rainbow of emotions.

Producer Scott Sanders appeared tickled pink as he spoke of how he and colleague Peter Guber visited book’s author Alice Walker in Berkeley, Calif., for permission to make her novel into a musical. After an hour-long talk over tea, she said no, Sanders recalled.

But a second visit in New York eventually persuaded her. “She let me have her baby,” Sanders said.

Sanders added that making the dramatic story of the novel and the 1985 Steven Spielberg film into a musical was an “incredible challenge,” and, when they prepared for the first production in Atlanta, many people said it couldn’t be done.

But, more than a million theatergoers have seen “The Color Purple” — which has the Oprah factor going for it, as Oprah Winfrey is a producer — on Broadway and “it has brought new audiences to the theater,” Sanders added.

Event was a red-letter day for Jeannette Bayardelle, starring as Celie, a character Bayardelle empowers with her “four F’s — family, friendship, forgiveness and faith,” the actress said at the after-party held in the ballroom at nearby Lady of Our Angels Cathedral.

Bayardelle said she finds Los Angeles auds exciting. “They are honest, they want a good show,” she said.

Rufus Bonds Jr., who plays mean old Mister, said he read the novel from cover to cover underlining everything about the character and discovered his hidden qualities of gentleness and an ability to find love.

Also in the “Purple” mode were its producer Quincy Jones, guests George C. Wolfe, Vanessa Williams, Loretta Devine and Margaret Avery, who played Shug Avery in the film.