According toVariety.com, NBC has announced it will make its next live musical television event a remake of the 1975 Tony Award-winner “The Wiz.” The remake will air on December 3.
Opening in 1975, “The Wiz” ran for four years on Broadway and won seven Tonys, including best musical. It retells the classic story of “The Wizard of Oz” in an African-American context.
In 1978, the musical was adapted into a movie produced by Motown and starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell and original Broadway cast member Ted Ross. NBC’s announcement of the holiday television event comes at a time when broadcast networks are setting more diversified roles and casting more and more actors of color on TV, following the success of Fox’s “Empire” and ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” among other series.
“The Wiz” marks NBC’s third such production, following the success of “The Sound of Music Live!,” starring Carrie Underwood, and “Peter Pan Live!,” starring Allison Williams as the title character.
“The Wiz” will be co-produced by Cirque du Soleil’s new stage theatrical division. After the television event, the musical will make its Broadway revival for the 2016-17 season, also presented by Cirque du Soleil.
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.
In the spring of 2001, Todd Kreidler met his boss, the playwright August Wilson, for breakfast at the Cafe Edison, as was their custom. Mr. Kreidler was assisting Wilson as he brought his play “King Hedley II” to Broadway, but really he was there to learn whatever Wilson wanted to teach him. And that morning, the subject was Tupac Shakur.
After a bit of chitchat, Wilson was exasperated with his charge. “You don’t really know ‘Dear Mama,’ ” he said, referring to Shakur’s signature ode to his mother. He got up, threw money on the table, marched out the door and to the nearby Virgin Megastore. There, he bought a copy of Shakur’s album “Me Against the World” and pressed it into Mr. Kreidler’s hands.
“There’s nothing contained in your life that’s not contained in that music,” Wilson told him, Mr. Kreidler recalled. “There’s love, honor, duty, betrayal, love of a people. There’s a whole universe in that music!” He made it clear, with some vulgarities for emphasis, that Mr. Kreidler wasn’t to return to rehearsal until he’d absorbed it all.
So on the day in 2010, when Mr. Kreidler opened a FedEx box with 23 of Shakur’s CDs and two books of his writings, tasked with building from them a musical rooted in that rapper’s words, he was prepared.
The result is “Holler if Ya Hear Me,” which opens at the Palace Theater on June 19, and weaves 21 songs by Shakur (two of which are musically arranged versions of his poems) into a story about a community struggling to pull hope from the grasp of entrenched social ills. Put differently, it’s not a Broadway-ification of Shakur’s life or vision so much as a repurposing of his words into an emotionally felt, family-friendly context.
“It’s a story about unconditional love that uplifts all of his words,” said Kenny Leon, the musical’s director, a veteran of Wilson’s “Fences” and the current “A Raisin in the Sun.” In that, “Holler” has plenty in common with the rest of Broadway, and the creative team was careful in managing how the play handled what Mr. Leon termed “the things that people think they hate” — bad language, guns, violence.
But it’s an open question whether the familiar Broadway audience, or even the middle-class black theatergoers who have been drawn in by “Raisin,” can make room in their hearts and wallets for Shakur’s words. Hip-hop has made it to Broadway before, but the Tony-winning “In the Heights” tested the waters Off Broadway first, and didn’t have to contend with an implied star whom people find controversial even years after his death.
The $8 million production seems to be splitting the difference; opening directly on Broadway — in a prime Times Square location that last housed “Annie,” no less — but after the Tony awards deadline. (Pop-minded shows like “Bring It On – The Musical” have lately taken a similar route.) Though influential producers were invited to the show’s workshops, they by and large declined to invest. Instead, the lead producers are Eric Gold, a longtime Hollywood manager and producer who is new to Broadway, and Shin Chun-soo, a South Korean theater impresario. “I’m prepared to nobly fail or to nobly succeed,” Mr. Gold said.
Murdered in 1996 in a case that’s still unsolved, Shakur remains, even after all these years, one of hip-hop’s most celebrated figures, a radical thug intellectual with an outsize gift for creating his character in real time. He was prolific and contradictory, a child of activists signed, late in his career, to Death Row, the label that mainstreamed gangster rap.
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.”
A new musical inspired by the rap songs of the late Tupac Shakur is heading to Broadway. Holler If Ya Hear Me is scheduled to open at the Palace Theatre in New York on June 19, with preview performances set to begin on May 26. Holler isn’t a biographical account of Shakur, who was killed at the age of 25 in 1996 following a shooting in Las Vegas. Rather, the musical production will use the rapper’s lyrics to tell a story of contemporary inner-city lives.
Among the producers of the musical are Afeni Shakur, the rapper’s mother; movie and TV producer Eric L. Gold; and Chunsoo Shin, the prominent Korean theater producer who recently collaborated with the La Jolla Playhouse on another musical, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Kenny Leon (Steel Magnolias, A Raisin in the Sun), will direct Holler, which will feature a creative team that includes Wicked choreographer Wayne Cilento. Rumors of the Shakur musical had been circulating for months, though no official announcement from producers had been made until Wednesday.
Denzel Washington will star opposite Diahann Carroll in the Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic A Raisin In The Sun. Previews begin March 8, 2014, with opening night on April 3, 2014 at the Barrymore Theatre where the original production opened 55 years ago. Set on Chicago’s South Side, A Raisin In The Sun revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family: son Walter Lee (Washington), his wife Ruth (Sophie Okonedo), his sister Beneatha (Anika Noni Rose), his son Travis and matriarch Lena, called Mama (Carroll). Rounding out the cast are Stephen Tyrone Williams, Jason Dirden, and Stephen McKinley Henderson. Washington won a Best Actor Tony for his performance in 2010′s Fences. The Kenny Leon-directed A Raisin In The Sun is a limited engagement, running 14 weeks only through June 15, 2014. Washington currently can be seen in Universal’s action thriller 2 Guns with Mark Wahlberg which opens today.
After unconfirmed rumors from Showbiz411, the man himself, Denzel Washington has confirmed that he is indeed returning toBroadway in 2014 to star in a revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, to be directed by Kenny Leon. Washington confirmed the rumors last night at the New York premiere of his action-comedy 2 Guns, the Wall Street Journalreported.
Although he didn’t say whether he’ll be joined by Sophie Okenedo, Anika Noni Rose and Diahann Carroll, as Showbiz411 also previously reported. But since they got Denzel’s involvement right (as well as the play, director and producer), I’d assume that they are also correct on the casting of the three actresses.
Denzel didn’t tell the WSJ what role he’ll be playing in the production, but, really, who else would it be but the lead protagonist, Walter Lee Younger? Certainly notJoseph Asagai nor George Murchison. Besides, I don’t see Denzel returning to Broadway to take a supporting role. Assuming Sophie Okenedo and Anika Noni Rose are indeed attached, they’d likely play Walter Younger’s sister (Beneatha) and wife (Ruth). Showbiz411 pegged Diahann Carroll as the family matriarch, Lena (“mama”). Scott Rudin will produce.