MusicGary Geld
LyricsPeter Udell
BookOssie Davis
Philip Rose
Peter Udell
BasisOssie Davis's play
Purlie Victorious
Productions1970 Broadway
1971 U.S. tour
1972 Broadway revival
1975 2nd U.S. tour
1981 U.S. Television
2004 London fringe festival
2005 Encores!

Purlie is a musical with a book by Ossie Davis, Philip Rose, and Peter Udell, lyrics by Udell and music by Gary Geld. It is based on Davis's 1961 play Purlie Victorious.


Purlie is set in an era when Jim Crow laws still were in effect in the American South. Its focus is on the dynamic traveling preacher Purlie Victorious Judson, who returns to his small Georgia town hoping to save Big Bethel, the community's church, and emancipate the cotton pickers who work on oppressive Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee's plantation. With the assistance of Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins, Purlie hopes to pry loose from Cotchipee an inheritance due his long-lost cousin and use the money to achieve his goals. Also playing a part in Purlie's plans is Cotchipee's son Charlie, who ultimately proves to be far more fair-minded than his Simon Legree–like father and who saves the church from destruction with an act of defiance that has dire consequences for the tyrannical Cap'n.

Production notes

Sherman Hemsley in the 1972 production

Although Davis did not participate actively in the creation of the musical, so much of his original script was included in the final project that Peter Udell and Philip Rose felt he should share credit for the book.

After 28 previews, the Broadway production, directed by Rose and choreographed by Louis Johnson, opened on March 15, 1970, at the Broadway Theatre. It later transferred to the Winter Garden and then the ANTA Playhouse before completing its 688-performance run. The cast included Cleavon Little as Purlie, John Heffernan as Cotchipee, Melba Moore as Lutiebelle, and C. David Colson as Charlie, with Sherman Hemsley, Linda Hopkins, Novella Nelson, and Helen Martin in supporting roles. Robert Guillaume replaced Little later in the run. Johnson's choreography was nominated for a Tony Award.[1]

The first edition of the original cast recording was released by Ampex Records;[2] it was later re-released on RCA Victor.

A U.S. national tour, leading up to the Broadway revival, ran from November 20, 1971 to December 2, 1972. It featured Guillaume as Purlie, Patti Jo as Lutiebelle, Sherman Hemsley as Gitlow, Helen Martin as Idella, Tommy Breslin as Charlie and Art Wallace as Ol' Cap'n.[3]

After two previews, a Broadway revival directed by Philip Rose and choreographed by Johnson opened on December 27, 1972, at the Billy Rose Theatre, where it ran for 14 performances. Guillame and Hemsley reprised their original roles, with Art Wallace as Cotchipee, Patti Jo as Lutiebelle, and Douglas Norwick as Charlie.

A 1981 television adaptation for Showtime directed by Rudi Goldman starred Broadway cast members Guillaume, Moore, Hemsley, and Hopkins, with Brandon Maggart as Cotchipee, Clarice Taylor as Idella, and Don Scardino as Charlie. The production won a CableACE Award.

The first London production was a fringe theatre staging at the Bridewell Theatre in 2004. The cast included Tee Jaye as Purlie, John Lyons as Cotchipee, Victoria Wilson-James as Missy Judson, and Joanna Francis as Lutiebelle.[4][5]

In 2005, Sheldon Epps directed a US national tour co-produced by the Pasadena Playhouse and the Goodman Theatre. His New York City Center Encores! staging that same year featured Blair Underwood, Anika Noni Rose, Lillias White, and John Cullum.[6]

Historical casting

Character 1970 Broadway cast 1972 Broadway revival cast 1972 1st National Tour cast 1981 Television Film 2005 Encores cast
Purlie Victorious Judson Cleavon Little Robert Guillaume Blair Underwood
Lutiebell Gussie Mae Jenkins Melba Moore Patti Jo Melba Moore Anika Noni Rose
Charley Cotchipee C. David Colson Douglas Norwick Tommy Breslin Don Scardino Christopher Duva
Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee John Heffernan Art Wallace Brandon Maggart John Cullum
Gitlow Judson Sherman Hemsley Doug E. Doug
Missy Judson Novella Nelson Laura Cooper Carol Jean Lewis Rhetta Hughes Lillias White
Idella Landy Helen Martin Clarice Taylor Lynda Gravatt

Musical numbers

Melba Moore and Cleavon Little in the original Broadway production (1970)
Act I
  • Walk Him Up the Stairs - Entire Company
  • Newfangled Preacher Man - Purlie
  • Skinnin' a Cat - Gitlow & The Field Hands
  • Purlie - Lutiebelle
  • The Harder They Fall - Purlie & Lutiebelle
  • Charlie's Songs: The Barrels of War; The Unborn Love - Charlie
  • Big Fish, Little Fish - Ol' Cap'n & Charlie
  • I Got Love - Lutiebelle
  • Great White Father - The Cotton Pickers
  • Skinnin' a Cat (Reprise) - Gitlow & Charlie
Act II
  • First Thing Monday Mornin' - The Cotton Pickers
  • Down Home - Purlie & Missy
  • He Can Do It - Missy & Lutiebelle
  • The Harder They Fall (Reprise) - Gitlow, Lutiebelle, and Missy
  • The Testimony of Purlie Victorious - Purlie
  • The World Is Comin' to a Start - Charlie & Company
  • Walk Him Up the Stairs (Reprise) - Entire Company

Awards and nominations

Original Broadway production

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1970 Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Cleavon Little Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Melba Moore Won
Best Direction of a Musical Philip Rose Nominated
Best Choreography Louis Johnson Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Performance Cleavon Little Won
Melba Moore Won
Theatre World Award Won


  1. ^ Kourlas, Gia (10 April 2020). "Louis Johnson, 90, Genre-Crossing Dancer and Choreographer, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  2. ^ Discogs
  3. ^ Purlie. Tour. Internet Broadway Database. 2021. Retrieved June 23, 2021
  4. ^ British Theatre Guide
  5. ^ Purlie is Victorious at The Bridewell. Indie London UK. Retrieved June 21, 2017
  6. ^ Brantley, Ben (April 2, 2005). "Playing With Fire Out on the Plantation". The New York Times.