With the critically acclaimed Shuffle Along, Or The Making Of The Musical Sensation Of 1921 And All That Followed closing on July 24, Tony Award winner Billy Porter refuses to sit still. He will return to Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company to direct the 2016 production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Topdog/Underdog.
The actor, writer, and director who took home a Grammy, Desk Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for his performance as Lola in the 2013 Broadway production of Kinky Boots, returns to Park’s prize-winning play over a decade after starring in a limited engagement at City Theatre production in Pittsburgh in 2004.
“I am over the moon about returning to the Huntington with such an important work,” says Porter in press statement. “I am humbled that both Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois and Suzan-Lori Parks have entrusted me to interpret this material for a new generation. I promise to make you proud!”
Topdog/Underdog tells the story of two co-dependent brothers, Lincoln and Booth, forced to live together and battle poverty, racism, gambling, divorce and abandonment. Lincoln is a former Three-card Monte player, forced to work as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator in a shooting gallery on a boardwalk arcade, while Booth is a grifter turned shoplifter.
The original Broadway run received an overwhelmingly positive response from critics. Topdog/Underdog opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theater in 2001 under the direction of George C. Wolfe and starred Tony Award winner Jeffrey Wright (Angels in America: Perestroika) as Lincoln and Academy Award nominee Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Crash) as Booth. When the production opened on Broadway at the Ambassador Theatre in 2002, Cheadle was replaced by hip-hop legend Mos Def. The play transferred to London at the Royal Court Theatre the following year with the same Broadway cast under Wolfe’s direction. For their efforts, Wright was nominated for a Tony Award and both actors took home the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Special Achievement.
In 2015, Porter directed a production of George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum at the Huntington Theatre.
In addition, Parks made history as the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. She also received a number of accolades, including the 2000 Guggenheim Fellowship for Playwriting and the 2001 MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.
Performances for Topdog/Underdog, helmed by Porter are scheduled for March 10-April 9, 2017, at the BU Theatre/Avenue of the Arts. Cast and creative team to be announced. For subscription information call (617) 266-0800 or visit huntingtontheatre.org/subscribe.
The Public Theater Will Present Hercules Musical & Hercules Is Black!
We knew it was coming, we just didn’t know when. Back in 2017, we reported that a musical adaptation of the Disney movie Hercules would be headed to Broadway. Now we can confirm that is somewhat true.
Hercules will be the latest Disney musical to be made for the stage and will play Off-Broadway at the Public Theater’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park. As the final show of the Shakespeare in the Park season theater season performances will run August 31 through September 8 with a reading set to take place in April.
The role of Hercules will be played by a Black actor, according to the casting notice
The musical will include the Oscar-nominated “Go the Distance, along with other songs from the 1997 animated film by Alan Menken & David Zippel. Presented through an arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions, the show will be directed by Lear deBessonet. The creative team also includes a book by Kristoffer Diaz, & choreography by Chase Brock.
Before Hercules, Kenny Leon will direct the Much Ado About Nothing May 21 through June 23 to begin the Shakespeare in the Park season.
Casting for all both productions will be announced at a later date
Lynn Nottage Today, Tomorrow and Beyond
Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Tony Award nominated play Sweat ended its Broadway run at Studio 54 on June 25. We weren’t ready to say goodbye to Sweat, and we’re definitely not ready to say goodbye to Lynn Nottage, leaving us to wonder what’s next for the two-time Pulitzer prize-winning playwright?
First, if you didn’t get a chance to see Sweat on Broadway or if you did but can’t get one of the poorest cities in America off your heart and mind, then you’ll want to visit Reading, Pennsylvania this summer. Shortly after finishing Sweat, Nottage came up with the idea for a site-specific performance installation honoring the people of Reading. Nottage shared that for a city divided by economical and racial politics, she wanted to highlight the city’s potential to use art and culture to bring its citizens together. The installation titled This is Reading will weave “individual stories into one cohesive and compelling tale of the city. Exploring the various viewpoints of the diverse community, [and] give the audience a vibrant and unique perspective of the city of Reading.” The installation will utilize live performance, visual media, and film. Located at Franklin Street Station, Reading PA, This is Reading will run July 14-16, July 21-23 and July 28-30.
What could possibly be next for Nottage? A musical of course!
Not just any musical, but an adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s book, The Secret Life of Bees. Book by Nottage, music by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening), lyrics by Susan Birkenhead (Jelly’s Last Jam) and direction by Sam Gold (Fun Home).
Nottage’s first musical follows the story of Lilly Owens, a white teen growing up in 1960’s South Carolina and her Black caretaker Rosaleen. After Rosaleen is hospitalized following an attempt to vote, she and Lily do their best to escape the harsh realities of their respective lives in the Jim Crow South, and happen upon a bee farm. “It sang to me” Nottage said of adapting Kidd’s book to a musical, “Every page I saw a song.”
The Secret Life of Bees will be presented as a workshop production at the Powerhouse Theater from July 27-29, apart of the New York Stage and Film’s 2017 season.
Finally, for the 2017/2018 season, Nottage’s play Mlima’s Tale will make it’s world premiere at The Public Theater and run from March 27 through May 20, 2018. Mlima’s Tale follows the story of Mlima, an african elephant caught between freedom and the
international ivory black market. Ultimately a story about trade itself, “Mlima leads us through memory and fear, history and tradition, want and need, and reveals the surprising and complicated deals that connect us all.” Next season, The Public will celebrate 50 years at its Astor Place location, and Lynn Nottage will be the only Black playwright with work presented.
From a site-specific performance installation, to her first musical, ending with another show at The Public Theater… Lynn Nottage has given us a lot to look forward to following her Broadway debut, and we will be ready. Sitting front and center.