Purlie – Original Broadway Cast 1970
Prologue – The Recent Past in South Georgia. In the cotton-plantation country of the Old South, the Reverend Purlie Victorious, from the pulpit of his newly acquired church, Big Bethel, is preaching his new gospel of freedom. The occasion for this gathering is the funeral of Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee. While everyone in the congregation hated the Ol’ Cap’n, they still feel the obligation to try and save his soul from spending eternity in hell – Walk Him Up The Stairs. Act I – Before the Funeral. A Small Shack on the Plantation. Purlie Victorious has returned to the valley to settle an old score with the Cap’n by recovering an inheritance that the Ol’ Cap’n’s wife left to her devoted servant, Purlie’s Aunt Henrietta. After Henrietta’s death the inheritance should have gone to her daughter, Cousin Bee, who went away to college up north a long time ago. Because the Ol’ Cap’n doesn’t know that she too has since died, Purlie has brought to the valley a beautiful young girl named Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins, who will pose as Cousin Bee: if she gets the $500 inheritance, Purlie can buy Big Bethel, the local church, and preach his gospel to all who would hear him – New Fangled Preacher Man. While his sister-in-law Missy is sympathetic to Purlie’s scheme, his brother Gitlow, the local Uncle Tom, is not. Gitlow has his own ways of getting back at the Ol’ Cap’n – Skinnin’ A Cat. Missy and Lutiebelle get to know one another, and soon Lutiebelle reveals her secret feelings about Purlie – Purlie. As Purlie explains the whole scheme to Lutiebelle, it dawns on her that what she is being asked to do is dangerous and could get her into deep trouble. She tries to get out of it, but Purlie persuades her that it is worth the risk – The Harder They Fall. Outside the Ol’ Cap’n’s commissary, the Ol’ Cap’n’s son Charlie, a would-be folk singer, tries out two of his songs on Idella, his family’s cook (who has worked for the Cotchipees for longer than anyone can remember) – The Barrels Of War/The Unborn Love. The Ol’ Cap’n comes upon them and explains to his misguided son, obviously not for the first time, the natural order of things in the South – Big Fish, Little Fish. Awhile later, undaunted by his father’s lecture, Charlie tries out yet another folk song on Idella – God’s Alive. After Charlie and Idella leave, Purlie and Lutiebelle arrive, looking for the Ol’ Cap’n. Not finding him, Purlie asks Lutiebelle to wait and says he will bring the Ol’ Cap’n to her. He tells her not to be frightened; she assures him she isn’t, and after Purlie leaves she tells us why – I Got Love. To insure that the Ol’ Cap’n is in a good mood when Lutiebelle tries to get the inheritance from him, Purlie and Gitlow arrange for the cotton pickers to prepare a special tribute to the Cap’n – Great White Father. Ol’ Cap’n is convinced that Lutiebelle is indeed Cousin Bee and all seems right, but when the Cap’n has her sign a receipt for the money, she mistakenly signs her own name and the whole scheme falls apart. Two days later at the shack, Missy and Purlie express their frustration with their lives and the world – Down Home. When Gitlow enters, he tells them he has taken care of everything: the money is as good as theirs. Suspicious, Purlie asks him how that can be. Gitlow explains that he left Lutiebelle with the Ol’ Cap’n to “help out with the Sunday dinner.” Purlie understands Gitlow’s meaning and is furious! Just then, a very disheveled Lutiebelle enters and tells them that the Cap’n pinched her cheek and kissed her. Vowing revenge – “No man kisses the woman I love and lives!” – Purlie heads up the mountain to the Ol’ Cap’n’s house to defend her honor. Act II As the next day dawns, the cotton pickers wake up and face a long day’s work, with big plans for their future – First Thing Monday Morning. While Purlie is off on his mission to avenge the insult to Lutiebelle’s honor, Missy seeks to alleviate Lutiebelle’s anxiety over Purlie’s fate – He Can Do It. When Purlie triumphantly returns, bearing the Ol’ Cap’n’s bullwhip and $500, he relates a tall tale of how he defeated the Ol’ Cap’n. Lutiebelle, Missy and Gitlow are enthralled by Purlie’s narrative of Ol’ Cap’n’s death – until Idella shows up and tells all assembled a different story. The Ol’ Cap’n is alive and right now is phoning the sheriff: someone (meaning Purlie) has broken into the commissary and stolen $500 and, among other things, the Ol’ Cap’n’s bullwhip. However, all ends happily, because it turns out that when the Ol’ Cap’n sent Charlie to go and buy Big Bethel before Purlie could, Charlie did everything the Ol’ Cap’n wanted – except that he put the deed in the name of Purlie Victorious Judson. When the Ol’ Cap’n sees the deed, he drops dead standing up. With everything being made right in the valley, Charlie attempts another folk song, and this time he gets it right – The World Is Comin’ To A Start. The scene shifts back to the Ol’ Cap’n’s funeral, and Purlie delivers his sermon in praise of freedom for all mankind – Walk Him Up The Stairs/Epilogue.
Purlie: Cleavon Little Church Soloist: Linda Hopkins Lutiebelle: Melba Moore Missy: Novella Nelson Gitlow: Sherman Hemsley Charlie: C. David Colson Idella: Helen Martin Ol’ Cap’n.: John Heffernan Singers: Carolyn Byrd, Barbara Christopher, Denise Elliott, Synthia Jackson, Mildred Lane, Alyce Webb, Mildred Pratcher, Peter Colly, Milt Grayson, Tony Middleton, Ray Pollard Dancers: Loretta Abbott, Hope Clark, Judy Gibson, Lavinia Hamilton, Arlene Rowlant, Ella Thompson, Myrna White, Morris Donaldson, George Faison, AI Perryman, Harold Pierson, William Taylor, Larry Vickers