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A Musical (Comedy) in 2 Acts, 6 Scenes, a Prologue and an Epilogue. Book by Ossie Davis, Philip Rose and Peter Udell. Based on the play Purlie Victorious by Ossie Davis. Music by Gary Geld. Lyrics by Peter Udell.

Broadway Theatre, New York - 15 March, 1970 (688 perfs)


Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee is dead. His glorious funeral shakes the halls of Big Bethel, the church he sought to destroy. The man on the pulpit is Purlie Victorious, a new kind of preacher man, who sings the praises of life rather than the uncertainties of life in the hereafter.

But it wasn't long ago when Purlie arrived with Lutiebelle and a scheme to deceive the Ol' Cap'n into giving him money that rightfully belonged to his mother, money that would buy Big Bethel. Ol' Cap'n is holding the inheritance due to a long-lost cousin. Purlie has searched the country for a look-alike that would fool the Ol' Cap'n. When the girl, Lutiebelle, realises the danger in the plan she tries to run away; it's her love of Purlie, not money or any church, that brought her here. But Purlie and Aunt Missy, wife of Purlie's brother Gitlow, persuade her to go through with the hoax.

Gitlow and Purlie arrange a little softening up by naming Ol' Cap'n the "Great White Father of the Year." Lutiebelle manages to fool him but signs the wrong name to the receipt for the money. The game is up. Back at Gitlow's shack the failure and frustration are rehashed. Gitlow enters and reveals that Ol' Cap'n gave him money to get Lutiebelle up to the big house.

Soon after she comes running in decrying the advances of the dirty old man. Purlie is outraged and charges up the hill to defend her honour. Lutiebelle and Aunt Missy stay up all night worrying. When Purlie returns, they demand a blow-by-blow description. He obliges with elaborate detail of his strengths and power, but he soon admits not a word is true.

However, enraged by the attempted fraud and Lutiebelle's rejection, Ol' Cap'n has ordered his folk-song-writing son, Charlie, to buy Old Bethel for burning. Charlie buys, but has Purlie's name recorded on the deed. When the Ol' Cap'n finds out, he drops dead.

So here is Purlie dedicating Big Bethel with the funeral of the man who made it both necessary and possible for such a festive occasion.

Musical Numbers

  1. Prologue
  2. Walk Him Up the Stairs - Entire Company
  3. New Fangled Preacher Man - Purlie
  4. Skinnin' a Cat - Gitlow, The Field Hands
  5. Purlie - Lutiebelle
  6. The Harder They Fall - Purlie, Lutiebelle
  7. Charlie's Songs: The Barrels of War/The Unborn Love - Charlie
  8. Big Fish, Little Fish - Ol' Cap'n, Charlie
  9. I Got Love - Lutiebelle
  10. Great White Father - The Cotton Pickers (Ensemble)
  11. Skinnin' a Cat (reprise) - Gitlow, Charlie
  12. Down Home - Purlie, Missy
  13. First Thing Monday Mornin' - The Cotton Pickers (Ensemble)
  14. He Can Do It - Missy, Lutiebelle
  15. The Harder They Fall (reprise) * - Gitlow, Lutiebelle, Missy
  16. The World Is Comin' to a Start - Charlie, Company
  17. Epilogue - Walk Him Up the Stairs (reprise) - Entire Company

* Replaced for West Coast tour by: Easy Goin' Man - Gitlow


:Violin I, II, viola, cello (all strings amplified), pic I (C flute, alto flute, clar, alto sax, tambourine), II (same), flute I (alto flute, clar, tenor sax, tambourine), II (same), bass (clar, bari sax, flute, tambourine), trumpet I (flugelhorn, tambourine), II (same), III (jazz, flugelhorn, tambourine), trombone I (bass, tenor), II (bass, tenor), jazz guitar I (elec, acoustic, classical), II (elec, acoustic, banjo), organ, drums, percussion.


7 parts, 5 principals, 2 featured roles, featured female lead singer, powerful legit voice.

Purlie, engaging actor who carries show, sings and dances.
Lutiebelle, singer who acts and dances
Ol' Cap'n, character man who sings *
Charlie, folk singer who acts (playing guitar helps) *
Missy, actress who sings and dances
Gitlow, character man who sings

 * only 2 white members of cast

Several good voices required for extensive choral work. Total cast, 32-42.

Scenes and Sets

Prologue, 2 acts, 8 scenes, epilogue (similar to prologue), 3 full stage sets, I drop.

Prologue: Big Bethel, a Country Church in South Georgia, Not Too Long Ago.

ACT I Some Time Before Prologue.

Scene I: A Shack on the Plantation
Scene 2: Outside Ol' Cap'n's Commissary.
Scene 3: Same.
Scene 4: The Shack.


Scene I: On the Plantation, 4 a.m.
Scene 2: The Shack, Just Before Dawn

Epilogue: Time and Place as in the Prologue.

Period and Costumes

Not long ago

(1970): black preacher's suit, vest, hat, dresses, and coat for Lutiebelle, patched house dresses and work clothes, white Kentucky colonel long coat suit, choir robes, misc. suits, dresses, and go-to-meetin' clothes.


Modern, modern jazz, swing.

Lighting and Special Effects

Mostly general lighting.