For Colored Girls (1976): Public Theater, Broadway Booth Theater

When for colored girls opened at the Booth Theater for the first time in 1976, it jolted the theater world with the frank and experimental way it approached the subject of Black womanhood.

The seven women — each representing a color of the rainbow — recited monologues that detailed and wrestled with their experiences of love, loss, betrayal, violation, abortion, and hope.

Their poems were combined with dance and music to tell these intimate stories.

The genre-defying work was only the second show by an African American woman.

Ntozake Shange, author of for colored girls
for colored girls… was first performed by Shange with four other artists at the Bacchanal, a women’s bar, outside Berkeley, California.

About six months after performing the work in California, Shange and her collaborator, Paula Moss, moved across the country determined to perform it in New York City’s downtown alternative spaces.

At the age of 27, Shange moved to New York, where, in July 1975, the reworked for colored girls was professionally produced in New York City at Studio Rivbea in 1975.

East coast audiences experience Shange’s performance piece at other venues including the Old Reliable, and DeMonte’s beginning in July 1975 and then starting in March 1976 at the Henry Street Settlement’s New Federal Theatre.

The show grew increasingly popular, especially among African-American and Latino audiences.

For colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf opened at The Public Theater in June 1976.

Three months later, in September, the show was performed at the Booth Theater on Broadway, where it was continued until July 1978 and ran for 742 shows.

Shange performed as the “lady in orange” at the Broadway opening.[8] It was also published in book form in 1977 by Macmillan Publishing, followed by a Literary Guild edition in October 1977 and Bantam Books editions beginning in 1980.[citation needed] A cast recording was also released by Buddah Records.

From February to July 1978 the production, presented by the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust and several American entrepreneurs, toured Australia. It was staged first at Her Majesty’s in Adelaide, South Australia, as part of the 10th Adelaide Festival of Arts, before touring to Melbourne, Sydney, Townsville, Cairns, and Brisbane, for two- to four-week runs. Original cast members Alfre Woodard, Aku Kadogo, Carol Maillard, and Lynn Whitfield featured in the show, while it was directed by Oz Scott.

In 1982 for colored girls… was adapted for television on WNET-TV, PBS, as part of The American Playhouse series. Although for colored girls went from a play production to television one, this production was dubbed a “telefilm” instead of a teleplay as the performance on WNET-TV was seen as a serious departure from the Broadway production.

In 2009 Tyler Perry announced that he would produce Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.

The film was the first project for 34th Street Films, Perry’s new production company housed in Lionsgate The cast included Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Phylicia Rashād, Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington and Thandie Newton.

Originally using the play’s full title, the film’s title was shortened to For Colored Girls in September 2010.

In the fall of 2019, The Public Theater revived the play. The production was directed by Leah C. Gardiner, with choreography by Camille A. Brown and featured a Deaf actress in the role of “Lady in Purple.”

On July 29, 2021, it was announced the Public Theater’s staging of the play would be produced on Broadway in 2022.

It was later announced that the production will be directed and choreographed by Brown.

In 1982 the play was adapted for television on PBS station WNET-TV, as part of the American Playhouse.[33] The adaptation, directed by Oz Scott, was seen as a serious departure from the Broadway production.[34] A review by The New York Times states: “What Miss Shange prefers to call a choreopoem has been expanded into realistic settings that too often resemble the sanitized atmosphere of an episode of Good Times. The net result has been a considerable reduction in the work’s emotional impact.”

The televised production is often seen as a diluted version of the original choreopoem.