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Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington and Danielle Brooks to Star in Broadway’s ‘The Piano Lesson’ Revival

The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter
 2022-03-29
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Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington and Danielle Brooks Tommaso Boddi/WireImage; Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images; Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
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Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington and Danielle Brooks are set to star in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson.

Tony Award nominee LaTanya Richardson Jackson is attached to direct the staging, making her Broadway directorial debut. She will also become the first woman to direct a Wilson play on Broadway. Arriving more than 30 years after its Broadway debut at the Walter Kerr Theatre in 1990, The Piano Lesson will begin performances at the St. James Theater this fall on Sept. 19. The show will run for 16 weeks.

The production marks Washington’s Broadway debut in the same role Samuel L. Jackson originated at Yale Repertory Theatre in 1987, later serving as understudy in the role during The Piano Lesson’s Broadway run. Jackson last appeared on Broadway in the 2011 production of The Mountaintop, starring opposite Angela Bassett. Brooks co-starred with Cynthia Erivo and Jennifer Hudson in 2015’s Tony-winning revival of The Color Purple.

“August Wilson dedicated his life and devoted his talent to dramatizing our stories and our experience,” Richardson said in a statement. “In doing so, he forever changed what it means to be Black in America. His plays built empathy, created community and showed us the power of representation. The Piano Lesson is one of his most enduring, profound and consequential masterpieces, and I am reveling in this opportunity to present it to Broadway audiences for the first time since its premiere.”

The fourth play in Wilson’s celebrated and groundbreaking American Century Cycle, The Piano Lesson follows a brother and sister pitted against one another in Pittsburgh’s Hill District during 1936 over the fate of a family heirloom — a piano carved with the faces of their ancestors. Washington will star as Boy Willie opposite Brooks as Berniece, the feuding sibling-duo who must revisit their past to move forward into the future. Jackson will star as their uncle Doaker Charles, in whose home the story takes place.

The Wilson play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, the Peabody Award and was nominated for the 1990 Tony Award for Best Play.

A series of 10 plays, the American Century Cycle is Wilson’s dramatic chronicling of the Black American identity and experience across the 20th century. Other entries beyond The Piano Lesson include Jitney, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, King Hedley II, Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf.

Brian Anthony Moreland (Thoughts of a Colored Man), Sonia Friedman (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and Tom Kirdahy (Hadestown) are serving as producers. In a statement, the trio said they were “humbled and honored” to bring Wilson’s work back to Broadway under the “inspirational” direction of LaTanya Richardson Jackson. “After more than 30 years, The Piano Lesson is still adding to the ever-evolving conversation about family legacy. This production is coming back to Broadway at such an exciting time for our industry as we work to rebuild — and who better than Mr. Wilson to help us.”

The production’s award-winning design team includes sets by Beowolf Boritt, costumes by Toni-Leslie James, lighting by Japhy Weideman, sound by Scott Lehrer and wigs by Cookie Jordan. The show’s casting is by Calleri, Jensen, Davis.

The St. James Theater is owned and operated by Jujamcyn Theaters, which served as the lead producer on six original productions in Wilson’s Century Cycle between 1990 and 2007, including The Piano Lesson’s initial Broadway run.

A film adaptation of The Piano Lesson featuring the Broadway cast was in the works, according to Denzel Washington, who told The Daily Mail a year ago he was slated to co-produce alongside Todd Black and the now-disgraced Scott Rudin. (Following accusations of bullying and workplace harassment from several former employees, Rudin stepped back from producing duties on a large slate of Broadway productions). A representative for Washington told the New York Times that he is still planning to produce The Piano Lesson big-screen adaptation.

The play’s last major New York production was at Signature Theatre in 2012, in an acclaimed revival that dominated that season’s Lucille Lortel Awards, the top honors for off-Broadway. It won four awards — outstanding revival, direction (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), lead actress (Roslyn Ruff) and featured actor (Chuck Cooper).

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