As Jennifer Hudson preps for her theatrical debut as Shug Avery in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple, the singer/actress has reunited with a fellow Dreamgirls alumnus: songwriter/producer Harvey Mason Jr. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the acclaimed musical will return to the Great White Way for previews on Nov. 10 before formally opening on Dec. 10 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Hudson’s co-stars include Cynthia Erivo as Celie and Danielle Brooks (Orange Is the New Black) as Sofia.
Hudson and Mason have recorded two songs so far for the musical. Currently available for free download, “Too Beautiful for Words” features Hudson. The second song is a revamp of the title track, now a duet between Hudson and Erivo, reprising her role from The Color Purple’s London production. Both “Too Beautiful” and tickets for the play are available via ColorPurple.com.
Mason, a member of the Underdogs production duo with Damon Thomas, is a six-time Grammy winner who has collaborated with Whitney Houston, Chris Brown, Toni Braxton and Tyrese, among others. In addition to Dreamgirls, the duo’s soundtrack production credits include both Pitch Perfect films, the James Brown biopic Get on Up and the forthcoming N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton. Before pulling another late night at his North Hollywood studio, Mason talked this week about N.W.A, his Purple family link and new recording/film projects.
Was your move to Broadway planned or happenstance?
After Jennifer signed on to play Shug, I think she brought my name up to the producers, who were familiar with my work. But Broadway is something I’ve always wanted to do. And The Color Purple was the play that I was really into because my dad [jazz drummer Harvey Mason Sr.] worked on the film version. So I already had kind of a connection to it. It’s been a cool transition. Both Jennifer and Cynthia are amazing vocalists. And I’ve gotten the chance to work with Stephen Bray, who wrote a lot of the music. Training in doing films has been great education for moving into Broadway.
What is different about the revamped versions of the two songs you’ve recorded?
We’ve upgraded and revamped the original melody chord progressions. It’s similar to the approach we took with Dreamgirls. We want to be respectful to the great original music and to fans of the film and the theatrical play. However, we always want to bring something new and fresh to today’s audience. We’re currently negotiating about possibly doing more songs.
Have you seen the final version of Straight Outta Compton yet?
I just watched the final cut today. I can’t talk too much about the film right now per Universal, but I think it will be a great movie. We worked with all the actors on their musical performances, getting them to sound like the records.
Is there an Empire-type show in your future?
A couple of projects have been brought to us, but they haven’t been the right fit. We do have our eyes on a few things. I also want to do more movies. Since producing the More Than a Game documentary in 2008 [featuring LeBron James], I want to move more into the production side. So I’m in the process of trying to develop a couple of music- and sport-based scripted films.
Who are you working with now in the recording studio?
We did a song called “Right Here,” that Chris Brown put out last week. I’m also overseeing Hailee Steinfeld’s [Pitch Perfect 2] project for Republic, recording 8-10 songs with her. I’ve also written some songs for a new boy band coming from manager Johnny Wright [Justin Timberlake].