AUGUST WILSON'S - THE PIANO LESSON - now playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater - 243 West 47th Street. - AmNews Curtain Raiser


Friday, October 14, 2022

AUGUST WILSON'S - THE PIANO LESSON - now playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater - 243 West 47th Street.

It’s hard not to trip over myself in finding the perfect words to describe the revival of August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” that’s currently playing on Broadway starring Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington (“Tenet”) who marks his Broadway debut and Danielle Brooks (“Orange Is The New Black”) and directed by Tony Award nominee LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Jackson’s wife of 53 years. This revival marks her directorial debut and the first woman to direct an August Wilson play on Broadway.

There’s a tremendous amount of talent on the stage and history with Jackson, in particular, who has stepped into the role of Doaker Charles. 

But Jackson first appeared in the 1990 original Broadway production in the role of Boy Willie which he originated at the Yale Repertory Theater in 1987 when he was 39 years old. Jackson’s career started on stage but most of the world knows him for his tremendous body of film work. He  recently received an Honorary Oscar for his long career, which includes roles in “The Avengers,” “Pulp Fiction” and “A Time to Kill.”

Some might say that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and here, I would agree because of John David. Washington’s father is the great Denzel Washington who has been planning a film version of “The Piano Lesson” and has publicly shared his goal to produce all of Wilson’s work for film starring in the Oscar-winning adaptation of “Fences.”  Since Wilson’s death, only two of his plays have been adapted into films: “Fences” (2016), and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2020) both produced by Washington. 

Brooks (33), who plays Bernice, is best known for her work in the award-winning television show “Orange Is the New Black” a role she snagged fresh out of Juilliard almost a decade ago. No stranger to the stage while shooting the seven-season epic television show, she earned a role and a Tony nomination (as, Sofia) in the musical “The Color Purple” and will reprise that role in the 2023 big-screen adaptation of the musical version of “The Color Purple.” She’s also making heads turn in HBO Max’s comedy Peacemaker and was hand-picked by James Gunn for that role. 

“The Piano Lesson” is set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District in 1936 during the time of the great depression and centers on a weeks-long confrontation between the siblings — Berniece (Brooks) and Boy Willie (John David Washington) battling over a brilliantly carved, 

handmade piano passed down from their father that survived the dawn of the Jim Crow South. The other characters that bring life to this riveting story are Doaker Charles (Samuel L. Jackson), the siblings' uncle; Doaker’s elder brother, Wining Boy (Michael Potts), a pianist; Avery Brown (Trai Byers), a young preacher who may or may not be in the cloth for the right reason and has eyes for Berniece; and Lymon (Ray Fisher), a charming homeboy who could never be called bright in the best of times. It’s an embarrassment of riches on the stage and off. 

The cast is rounded out by Ray Fisher as Lymon, April Matthis as Grace, and Nadia Daniel and Jurnee Swan alternating in the role of Maretha. Understudies are Shirine Babb, Charles Browning, Peter Jay Fernandez, Sharina Martin, Warner Miller, Doron JePaul Mitchell, and Kim Sullivan.

It’s important enough to mention twice that director Richardson Jackson (the first woman to direct an August Wilson play on Broadway) has put a significant crack in the way things have been done for too long. Insiders say this is a strong indication that  

New York theaters are re-upping the profitable commitment made to African-American thespians and playwrights last fall.

The creative team also includes Tony-winning music director Jason Michael Webb, who composed new music for the revival, Tony-winning set designer Beowulf Boritt, Tony-nominated costume designer Toni-Leslie James, Tony-nominated lighting designer Japhy Weideman, Tony-winning sound designer Scott Lehrer, Drama Desk-nominated designer Cookie Jordan, Tony-winning projection designer Jeff Snug, and choreographer Otis Sallid. Casting is by Calleri, Jensen, and Davis, and general management is by Foresight Theatrical.

“The Piano Lesson” now playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater - 243 West 47th Street. 

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