News Column

Atlanta director Kenny Leon Broadway-bound with Denzel Washington

July 23, 2013

YellowBrix

July 23--Multitasking Atlanta director Kenny Leon will direct Denzel Washington in a Broadway revival of "A Raisin in the Sun," planned to open next April.

In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Leon confirmed rumors appearing on New York theater blogs this week that he would again direct Washington, who won his first Tony in 2010 for his lead role in the Leon-helmed revival of "Fences."

"I am going to direct a revival of 'Raisin in the Sun.' Denzel is going to do it," Leon said. "We start rehearsals next Jan. 27 and open on Broadway April 3.

"I'm not going to say anything else about it. We are almost fully cast, and we'll probably make a (formal) announcement soon."

Leon is in Los Angeles on Wednesday to promote his TV movie "The Watsons Go to Birmingham," premiering on the Hallmark Channel on Sept. 20.

Leon has a history not only with Washington but with Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 drama. In his first Broadway staging of "Raisin," Leon directed Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald to 2004 Tonys, then led a TV adaptation that aired on ABC in 2008.

Broadway sites had been buzzing this week with rumors that Washington will play Walter Younger, a dreamer desperate to break out of the cycle of poverty and prejudice, with Sophie Okonedo and Anika Noni Rose playing either his wife or sister.

Rose, as it turns out, is one of the stars of "The Watsons Go to Birmingham." The drama follows a Michigan family with a troubled oldest son that travels south in 1963 where he is to stay with his strict grandmother, and the family winds up close to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four girls.

Leon said that he just turned in the final edit of the Atlanta-filmed "Watsons" on Monday.

"It is a beautiful film about how fiction sort of runs into real life," he said. "We created a film that has a lot of humor, a lot of richness and has a lot of important historical things that young people should know about. So I'm really, really proud of it."

The director expressed similar enthusiasm for the Broadway prospects of "Holler If Ya Hear Me," a musical built around the songs of the late Atlantan Tupac Shakur that he has nurtured for several years.

Leon directed an extended workshop production of the fictional Todd Kreidler script this summer that featured Chadwick Boseman (who portrayed Jackie Robinson in "42") and Atlanta-raised Saycon Sengbloh (the "Fela" star currently in "Motown the Musical") in the lead roles.

He hoped to move from the workshop, which he described as "incredible," directly to a Broadway stage, but there wasn't one with an immediate opening. "As soon as a theater is available, which I think will be soon hopefully, we're ready to go," he said. "All the money is in place. All the people are in place."

Leon has two other reasons to be chipper: His Atlanta-filmed TV adaptation of "Steel Magnolias" garnered an Emmy nomination for Alfre Woodard last week. And his Atlanta-based True Colors Theatre Company has a world premiere musical, "Shakin' the Rafters," on the boards at 14th Street Playhouse through Aug. 4 (www.truecolorstheatre.org).

Heading out the door for a plane to Los Angeles, the ever-juggling director forgot to mention that last one, then phoned back the AJC to make sure to talk it up.

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(c)2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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