Washington, who won the 2010 Tony Award for his performance in August Wilson's Fences, stars as Walter Lee Younger opposite film, television and stage actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson as Lena Younger.
"This is where I started. I think this is where actors really get to practice and work on their craft," Washington told Playbill.com about returning to the stage. "Film is a director's medium. Whatever you do in the film, the director then takes the material and edits it the way he or she wants to. In theatre, it belongs to us. And, it's great literature — Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson… I've been blessed to touch two of the great American playwrights."
Tony Award-winning actress Diahann Carroll was to return to Broadway in Raisin, but withdrew from the production due to the demands of the rehearsal and performance schedule. Richardson Jackson was called upon by director Kenny Leon to step in.
"A lot of folks don't know this," he explained, "but I called LaTanya ten years ago to do this role. There was another director on [the 2004 revival of] A Raisin in the Sun, initially, and they called Phylicia Rashad to do the role, and Phylicia said, 'Oh, I'm too young to do it. I decline.' So when they brought me on to [direct], they said, 'Well, Phylicia Rashad has already declined,' so I went to LaTanya, and LaTanya was busy.
"I called Phylicia personally. I said, 'You can do this play,' and then she said yeah. Phylicia ended up doing it [and] winning a Tony Award. It worked out pretty good for her! So when I called LaTanya last Sunday, after she couldn't catch her breath, she said, 'Thank God for second chances.'" The production, directed by Tony Award nominee Leon, began performances March 8 for a 14-week limited engagement through June 15.
The production also stars Academy Award nominee Sophie Okonedo ("Hotel Rwanda," Broadway debut) as Ruth Younger, Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose (Caroline, or Change) as Beneatha Younger, Stephen Tyrone Williams (Lucky Guy) as Joseph Asagai, Jason Dirden (Fences) as George Murchison, Tony Award nominee Stephen McKinley Henderson (Fences) as Bobo, David Cromer (director and star of Our Town, director of Tribes and The House of Blue Leaves) as Karl Lindner and 13-year-old Bryce Clyde Jenkins (Broadway debut, "The To-Do List," "Easy A") as Travis Younger.
Okonedo is appearing with the permission of Actors' Equity Association.
Originally produced in 1959, Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway, where it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.
Here's how producer Scott Rudin bills the work: "Set on Chicago's South Side, A Raisin in the Sun revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family: son Walter Lee (Washington), his wife Ruth (Okonedo), his sister Beneatha (Rose), his son Travis and matriarch Lena, called Mama (Jackson). When her deceased husband's money comes through, Mama dreams of moving to a new home and a better neighborhood in Chicago. Walter Lee, a chauffeur, has other plans: buying a liquor store and being his own man. Beneatha dreams of medical school. The tensions and prejudice they face form this seminal American drama."
The classic Hansberry drama was last seen on Broadway in 2004 starring Sean Combs.
Washington has also been seen on Broadway in Julius Caesar and Checkmates.
The Ethel Barrymore Theatre is located at 243 West 47th Street. Visit RaisinBroadway.com.