Broadway’s greats have gathered to bring the legacy of Henrietta Lacks to HBO. Her life began in 1920 in Roanoke, VA, but her legacy lives on today. In January of 1951, she received a diagnosis of cervical cancer, which would be one of the important moments in medical history–and one of the most invasive.
Henrietta died in 1951 when the tumor spread throughout her body. During Henrietta’s treatment and diagnosis, her cells were taken without her consent or knowledge; her physicians would go on to use her cells for medical advancement. Twenty-four years passed until Lacks’ family became aware of this injustice.
In 2010, Oprah Winfrey confirmed development of Rebecca Skloot’s critically acclaimed, bestselling nonfiction book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks into an HBO film. Filming began in 2016, and at long last, HBO has finally released a trailer!
The trailer features Broadway producer Winfrey as Lacks’ daughter, Deborah Lacks. The trailer feels as intense as Lacks’ story. Hamilton’s Tony winner Renée Elise Goldsberry plays the role of Henrietta. Even in the trailer, their connection seems palpable; Henrietta died when Deborah was just two and the trailer shows Deborah’s desperate pursuit for her mother’s memory.
The cast also features performances by Reg E. Cathey (The Shawshank Redemption), Adriane Lenox (Doubt: The Parable), and Courtney B. Vance (The People v. OJ Simpson, Lucky Guy), Leslie Uggams (Deadpool, Hallelujah, Baby!), and Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Seven Guitars, Jitney). Shuffle Along’s George C. Wolfe directs from his screenplay adaptation of the novel.
The movie airs on HBO on April 22.
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.
Hercules Plans to Go the Broadway Distance
The 1997 Disney animated film “Hercules” will soon become a Broadway musical, according to composer Alan Menken.
In an interview with The Orange County Register, Menken discussed his participation in the upcoming D23 Expo in Anaheim, CA. He will provide a behind the scenes look at his role in several Disney productions including “Aladdin”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Newsies”, and “The Little Mermaid”. Notice a pattern here? All of those productions are now Tony-winning (or in the case of The Little Mermaid, nominated) Broadway musicals.
Bringing 90’s Disney films to life on stage appears to be the new trend as for each aforementioned production, roughly 20 years has passed since the Disney theatrical release. When asked which films he thought were underrated, Menken replied “I have a very strong belief like “Newsies”, “Hercules” is going to have a moment that will surprise people. Actually, I’m working on a stage version of “Hercules.” So far, no timeline or casting has been announced for this project.
If the 20 year waiting period from screen to stage can be believed, we should probably look forward to an announcement next year about a stage production of either “Mulan” or “A Bug’s Life.” Both were released in 1998, but we’re crossing our fingers for the one that’s more likely to star Lea Salonga.
The “Hercules” animated film starred the voices of Lillias White (Dreamgirls), Cheryl Freeman (The Civil War), LaChanze (The Color Purple), Roz Ryan (Ain’t Misbehavin’) and Vanéese Y. Thomas (R&B Single “Let’s Talk it Over”) as the muses and narrators of the tale, Keith David (Jelly’s Last Jam) as Apollo, Roger Bart (Big River) as Hercules’ singing voice and Susan Egan (Beauty and the Beast) as Megara.
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