The Queen of Soul has a lot to celebrate. During the festivities of her 74th birthday at New York City’s Ritz Carlton Hotel, Aretha Franklin announced that her biopic, which faced several delays due to negotiations, has finally been given the green-light.
“I’m in the last of the negotiations, because we have agreed on the key things and the most important things,” Franklin told Huffington Post. “It’s some of the people that were involved in ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ and this is going to be ‘Straight Outta Detroit.”
And who has she casted to play herself? Well, Aretha can’t spill all the tea, but we do know she initially considered Halle Berry and then later named Audra McDonald and Jennifer Hudson as two potential Arethas.
“It’s been a long, long haul, but I think we’re right at it now,” Franklin said. “I spoke to the young lady about a week ago — I won’t say which one of the two it was — but I spoke to her, and she’s ready. We’re going to go forward with it.”
Denzel Washington is also rumored to play Franklin’s father in the film, but all will be revealed in due time.
The film will be based on the singer’s upbringing and legendary career while also shedding light on her personal relationships, including her abusive marriage to Ted White. Plans for this project have been in play since 2011 and Franklin is excited to have been given creative control.
Audra McDonald brings her acclaimed portrayal of Billie Holiday in the Broadway smash “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” to HBO, with the exclusive presentation scheduled to debut Saturday, March 12, 2016.
Filmed before a live audience at Cafe Brasil in New Orleans, the special features McDonald in her history-making, tour de force performance as the jazz icon.
Originally written for off-Broadway by Lanie Roberston in 1987, the production tells Holiday’s life story through the songs that made her famous, including “God Bless the Child,”“What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “Strange Fruit” and “Taint Nobody’s Biz-ness.”
McDonald made history and became Broadway’s most decorated performer when she won her sixth Tony Award, for “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” in 2014. In addition to setting the record for most competitive wins by an actor, she also became the first person to receive awards in all four acting categories. The show’s run at the Circle in the Square Theatre on Broadway was extended four times due to high demand.
“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” is directed by Lonny Price, who also directed the Broadway production, and produced by Allen Newman and Two Hands Entertainment. It was originally produced on Broadway by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Jessica Genick and Will Trice.
The special will also be available on HBO NOW and HBO GO.
The network has released a first teaser which is embedded below:
Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will return to Broadway in spring 2016 in a new collaboration with Tony-winning director George C. Wolfe and Tony-winning choreographer Savion Glover. The collaboration is called Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Follows. The production begins previews March 14, 2016, at the Music Box Theatre, with opening night set for April 21.
McDonald will play Lottie Gee, the 1920s performer who appeared in the cast of Shuffle Along. This 1921 musical by Flournoy Miller, Aubrey Lyles, Eubie Blake, and Noble Sissle altered the face of Broadway in giving several black performers their first Broadway credits. The show helped launch the careers of Josephine Baker, Florence Mills, and Paul Robeson, among many others.
Ninety-five years later, this backstage musical will explore the creation of this now-forgotten show. Wolfe directs and pens the book, while Glover choreographs. It marks their first collaboration since their 1996 hit Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk. The production will have music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Daryl Waters, scenic design by Santo Loquasto, costume design by Ann Roth, and lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Scott Rudin serves as producer.
Additional information about the production will be revealed in the coming months.
Although the Denzel Washington-headlined revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play did not garner its lead an award tonight, “A Raisin in the Sun” fared quite well in several other categories, winning three Tonys overall, for Best Director (Kenny Leon), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Sophie Okonedo) and Best Revival of a Play.
Also of major note was Audra McDonald‘s Best Lead Actress in a Play win for “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” Not only did she earn her record sixth Tony (surpassing Angela Lansberry and Julie Harris at five each), she also became the only actor to ever win a Tony in all four acting categories.
The Tony Nominations for 2014 were announced this morning, and the current production of the Lorraine Hansberry classic, A Raisin In The Sun, earned four, including Best Revival of A Play. Raisin‘s LaTanya Richardson Jackson was nominated in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play, and Sophie Okonedo and Anika Noni Rose both were nominated in the Featured Actress category for their outstanding work in the production.
Denzel Washington, who anchors the play by reviving the Walter Younger role that garnered Sidney Poitier a Tony nomination in the original Broadway production, was overlooked in the Leading Actor category.
When Billie Holiday sang, history attests, her audiences tended to clam up. Even in the bustling nightclubs where she mostly performed, Holiday often insisted on total quiet before she would open her mouth. The quiet usually held, as one of the great singers of the last century turned jazz songs and standards into searching, and searing, portraits of life and love gone wrong that cast a shimmering spell.
When Audra McDonald takes to the stage and pours her heart into her voice in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” a similar sustained hush settles over the Circle in the Square, where the show opened on Broadway on Sunday night for a limited run. With her plush, classically trained soprano scaled down to jazz-soloist size, Ms. McDonald sings selections from Holiday’s repertoire with sensitive musicianship and rich seams of feeling that command rapt admiration.
Although Ms. McDonald, a five-time Tony winner and an accomplished recitalist, has her own natural authority onstage, in this show, she submerges her identity in Holiday’s as an act of loving tribute to an artist whose difficult career exacted a painful price. Holiday is as well known now for the grim travails of her short life — she died at the age of 44, her voice spent, her body destroyed by addiction to alcohol and heroin — as she is revered for the legacy of recordings she left behind.
We hear much (too much) of this sorry story during the show, written by Lanie Robertson and directed by Lonny Price, and first produced Off Broadway in 1986. The year is 1959, just months before Holiday died, and the show is set at the club of the title in Philadelphia, a city that, as Holiday notes, she had reason to loathe. It was the site of her trial and conviction for drug possession, which led to a stint in prison and the revoking of her New York cabaret card, limiting her opportunities to perform in the city during the latter years of her career.
The spark of rebellion, the kind that makes a man stand up and fight, has almost been extinguished in Walter Lee Younger. As portrayed by Denzel Washington in Kenny Leon’s disarmingly relaxed revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun — which opened on Thursday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theater — Walter appears worn down, worn out and about ready to crawl into bed for good. Frankly, he looks a whole lot older than you probably remember him.
That’s partly because, at 59, Mr. Washington, the much laureled movie star, is about a quarter of a century older than the character he is playing, at least as written. (This production bumps Walter’s age up to 40 from 35.) But it’s also because, as this production of Raisin makes clearer than any I’ve seen before, Walter inhabits a world that ages men like him fast.
Listen to how his mama, Lena (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), describes her late husband’s existence: “I seen him, night after night, come in, and look at that rug, and then look at me, the red showing in his eyes, the veins moving in his head. I seen him grow thin and old before he was 40, working and working like somebody’s horse.”
In this engrossingly acted version of Hansberry’s epochal 1959 portrait of an African-American family, Walter is all too clearly his father’s son. Lena may tell him, shaking her head, that he is “something new, boy.” But you know that her great fear is that he is not. Small wonder she shows such smothering protectiveness to Walter’s 11-year-old son, Travis (Bryce Clyde Jenkins).
A claustrophobic fatigue pervades the cramped, South Side Chicago apartment in which A Raisin in the Sun is set. And despite its often easygoing tone, a happy ending feels far from guaranteed. As designed by Mark Thompson, the Youngers’ living room cum kitchen is a narrow corridor that keeps its three generations of inhabitants in close, erosive proximity.
The production begins with a searing vision of bone-weariness. Ruth Younger (Sophie Okonedo), Walter’s wife, stands frozen center stage in a bathrobe, amid sallow morning light. Her face is harrowed, and her arms are braced against the kitchen counter in what is almost a crucifix position. She is trying to find the strength to get through another day.
Mr. Leon relaxes that initial tautness for the scene that follows, in which the Youngers — who also include Walter’s sister, Beneatha (a first-rate Anika Noni Rose), a pre-med student — go through their usual morning rituals. And the play as a whole has a genial, conversational quality; it always holds you, but without trying to shake you.
Still, that opening scene strikes a note that will resonate. Exhaustion is pulling at the Youngers like a dangerous force of gravity. As Hansberry puts it in her stage directions, “Weariness has, in fact, won in this room.”
Audra McDonald will be spending a lot of time on Broadway over the next couple of years. Weeks after announcing she will star in a revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Night, Mother opposite Oprah Winfrey, McDonald is set to play Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. The four-time Tony Award-winning actress will play the late jazz icon in the show, which is set in 1959 in a seedy Philadelphia bar, and relives Billie Holiday’s last performance, taking place only four months before her death at age 44.
Lady Day is set to go in front of audiences later this year, making it McDonald’s next turn on the stage. Night, Mother will debut in the 2015-2016 season.
Oprah Winfrey is in talks to make her Broadway debut in a revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play ’Night, Mother, starring opposite Tony-Award winner Audra McDonald as a mother struggling to stop her daughter from killing herself, according to two theater executives familiar with the plans. Tony winner George C. Wolfe (Lucky Guy) would direct the production, which is being aimed for the 2015-16 Broadway season. The two theater executives spoke on condition of anonymity to share details about a production that is currently confidential.
The lead producer of the project, Scott Sanders, confirmed on Thursday that he was in discussions with Ms. Winfrey to make her Broadway debut, but he declined to identify the play or discuss other details.
“Oprah has had a longstanding desire to act on Broadway,” Mr. Sanders said. “She understands how unique and challenging performing live on stage will be as an actress. She and I have been looking at a number of plays and roles in order to find material and a character that truly resonate with her. We’ve recently read something that we’re both excited about but are not yet ready to officially announce the specifics.”
Ms. Winfrey and Ms. McDonald read ’Night Mother together last year with Mr. Wolfe in Mr. Sanders’s apartment, according to the two theater executives, and all involved were happy with the results. The 2015-16 timing is driven by scheduling availability, according to the theater executives. Ms. Winfrey, who delivered an acclaimed film performance in Lee Daniels’ The Butler last year, and Mr. Sanders are currently working together on a Broadway revival of the musical The Color Purple, possibly for the 2014-15 theater season. They produced the original Color Purple production on Broadway in 2005; the new version would be the stripped-down production that the Tony winner John Doyle directed to much praise in London last summer.
Ms. McDonald, a five-time Tony winner who was last on Broadway in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, and whose last Broadway play was A Raisin in the Sun in 2004 (for which she won a Tony), has theater projects and other work planned for the 2014-15 season. ‘Night, Mother was written by Marsha Norman, who worked with Ms. Winfrey and Mr. Sanders as the book writer on The Color Purple.
The two-character drama originally opened on Broadway in 1983 and ran for a year, earning Tony nominations for best play and best actress for both stars, Anne Pitoniak and Kathy Bates. There was a short-lived revival on Broadway in the 2004-5 season starring Brenda Blethyn and Edie Falco. Representatives for Ms. Winfrey did not return requests for comment; a spokesman for Ms. McDonald declined comment.
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry, born May 19, 1930, was an African-American playwright and writer. Her best known work, the play A Raisin in the Sun, was inspired by her family’s battle against racial segregation in Chicago. Hansberry was the youngest of four children of Carl Hansberry, a successful real-estate broker, and Nannie Louise Perry who was a school teacher. In 1938, her father bought a house in the Washington Park Subdivision of the South Side of Chicago, violating a restrictive covenant and incurring the wrath of many neighbors. The latter’s legal efforts to force the Hansberrys out culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1940 decision in Hansberry v. Lee, holding the restrictive covenant in the case contestable, though not inherently invalid.
Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but found college uninspiring and left in 1950 to pursue her career as a writer in New York City, where she attended The New School. In 1951, she joined the staff of the black newspaper Freedom under the auspices of Paul Robeson, and worked with W. E. B. DuBois, whose office was in the same building. A Raisin in the Sun was written at this time and completed in 1957. In 1953, she married Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish publisher, songwriter and political activist. She later joined the Daughters of Bilitis and contributed two letters to their magazine, The Ladder, in 1957 under her initials “LHN” that addressed feminism and homophobia. She separated from her husband at this time, but they continued to work together.
In 1959, Raisin In The Sun debuted, becoming the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. The 29-year-old author became the youngest American playwright and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. A Raisin in the Sun was revived on Broadway in 2004 and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Revival of a Play. The cast included Sean “P Diddy” Combs as Walter Lee Younger Jr., Phylicia Rashad (Tony Award-winner for Best Actress) and Audra McDonald (Tony Award-winner for Best Featured Actress). It was produced for television in 2008 with the same cast, garnering two NAACP Image Awards.
While many of her other writings were published in her lifetime – essays, articles, and the text for the SNCC book The Movement, the only other play given a contemporary production was The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window ran for 101 performances on Broadway and closed the night she died. After a battle with pancreatic cancer she died on January 12, 1965, aged 34. Hansberry’s funeral was held in Harlem on January 15, 1965. Paul Robeson gave her eulogy. The presiding reverend, Eugene Callender, recited messages from James Baldwin and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. which read: “Her creative ability and her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today will remain an inspiration to generations yet unborn.” She is buried at Asbury United Methodist Church Cemetery in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.