Ossie Davis' Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch returned to Broadway for its first-ever revival, officially opening September 27 after beginning previews September 7 at The Music Box Theatre. The play, which centers around race and justice, is every bit as mordaciously funny now as when it first premiered in 1961. Read the rave reviews for the new Broadway revival here.
The cast and creative team of Purlie Victorious, directed by Tony Award winner Kenny Leon, celebrated the production's opening night on the red carpet, where they shared their thoughts on the play and the process of bringing it back to Broadway with Playbill. Above, see the video from the show's red carpet.
The story follows Purlie, a traveling preacher who returns to his hometown in rural Georgia to save the local church and the cotton pickers working on Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee's plantation. Leslie Odom, Jr., who plays the title role in Purlie Victorious, returns to Broadway for the first time since originating the role of Aaron Burr in Lin Manuel Miranda's hit-musical Hamilton. "Lin made that [a return to Broadway] hard because he gave me one of the greatest roles in one of the greatest pieces of theatre ever written," says Odom. "It takes a second to find another one of those, and Ossie Davis wrote another one of those." As co-producer, in his Broadway producing debut, Odom believes the play is something special: "This show, this role—it's as good as it gets."
"It feels like it's a beautiful offering to Broadway, that Ossie Davis' words are being honored in 2023," says Kara Young, who stars opposite Odom in the play as Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins, who helps Purlie on his quest. "It [the play] speaks volumes to where we are as a society still." Young believes Purlie Victorious has a relevance that will strike a chord with viewers. "[Davis] is really dissecting the absurdities of racial and social structures in this America... in this very classic play that not many people know about," says Young. "Yet they will." On the red carpet, Young paid tribute to Ruby Dee, who played Lutiebelle in the original production of Purlie Victorious in 1961—Dee's visage was on Young's gown.
"I think there are some plays that we as an audience or producing body feel we may have outgrown," says cast member Heather Alicia Simms, expressing why, despite the story's relevance, it has taken 62 years for this show to come back to Broadway. "I think having such a long span of time and realizing no, we haven't [outgrown this story]... it puts it in stark relief," she says. "We still have work to do... and I think as theatre artists, we are best equipped to bring the conversation to our community." Simms plays Missy Judson, who works on the plantation.
Jay O. Sanders, who plays plantation owner Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee, says the cast and creative team was delicate and respectful throughout the process of putting Purlie Victorious on its feet. "We're dealing with very tough issues—conversation about race, people's position in representing positions on race," he says. "[We showed] sensitivity to each other—the difference between who we are and the values that we hold versus those that our characters hold—and allowing room to laugh about it, as well as cry, all of which comes into this [production]."
Adds cast member Noah Robbins, "Ossie Davis was so brilliant at finding the funniest possible angles of the most serious possible topics." Robbins plays Charlie Cotchipee, the son of Ol' Cap'n. For Robbins, the audience response to Purlie Victorious has been the biggest gift of the entire process. "The main thing that audiences are coming away with is a sense of joyousness and uplift," he says. "[Even] after 62 years, people just still are eating this up."
The cast additionally includes Billy Eugene Jones as Gitlow Judson, Vanessa Bell Calloway as Della Landy, Bill Timoney as The Sheriff, and Noah Pyzik as The Deputy. Rounding out the company are understudies Donald Webber Jr., Melvin Abston, Willa Bost, and Brandi Porter.
The production features scenic design by Derek McLane, costume design by Emilio Sosa, lighting design by Adam Honoré, sound design by Peter Fitzgerald, hair and wig and makeup design by J. Jared Janas, and original music by Guy Davis. Kamra A. Jacobs is production stage manager. Casting is by The Telsey Office.
The revival is produced by Jeffrey Richards, Hunter Arnold, Leslie Odom, Jr., Louise Gund, and Bob Boyett, along with co-producers Willette and Manny Klausner, Salman Moudhy Al-Rashid, Creative Partners Productions, Irene Gandy, Kayla Greenspan, Mark and David Golub Productions, Kenny Leon, John Gore Organization, Morwin Schmookler, Van Kaplan, Ken Greiner, Patrick W. Jones, Nicolette Robinson, National Black Theatre, Alan Alda, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Phylicia Rashad, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Kerry Washington.