Def and Jeff get down to business this week, when the Broadway production of Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog begins performances at the Ambassador Theatre March 12.
The George C. Wolfe staging opens April 7 with stars Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def as a pair of mismatched brothers, Lincoln and Booth (named for, yes, that Lincoln and that Booth). They were named by their father, as a joke.
Topdog/Underdog premiered at the Public Theater in July 2001. The two-man show concerns Lincoln (played by Wright), who spends his days as a white-face impersonator of the 16th president, while Booth (Mos Def) shoplifts suits and expensive champagne. The brothers are haunted by the past and their obsession with the street con game, three card monte. They eventually come to learn the true nature of their history. The two strive for a family unity they have never had, but end up battling to the death.
Parks' In the Blood (a Pulitzer Prize finalist) played the Public in 1999-2000, and her Fucking A will play at the theatre in the 2002-03 season.
Rap star Mos Def replaced original star Don Cheadle as Booth. Cheadle played the role in the Off Broadway Public Theater production last year. As film actor Cheadle ("Ocean's 11") became unavailable, director Wolfe turned to Mos Def (nee Dante Smith), who has appeared in "Bamboozled," "Where's Marlowe," "Island of the Dead," and "Monster's Ball." Mos Def met Wolfe when the latter auditioned for a projected film of the musical Jelly's Last Jam. Wright, who plays Lincoln, won a Tony Award for his performance in Angels in America, also directed by Wolfe. He worked for the Public last summer, performing in Julius Caesar in Central Park.
Topdog was Wolfe's first directing assignment after 1999-2000's The Wild Party. He also directed Elaine Stritch At Liberty at the Public in fall 2001 prior to the current move to Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre.
Topdog/Underdog designers are Riccardo Hernandez (scenic), Emilio Sosa (costumes), Scott Zielinski (lighting) and Dan Moses Schreier (sound).
Topdog/Underdog ended its extended summer run at The Public Theater's Anspacher Theater Sept. 2, 2001. Previews began July 10 for an opening on July 26. The work was originally scheduled for March 2001, but pushed back to July, apparently to accommodate Cheadle's schedule.
The Ambassador Theatre is at 219 W. 49th Street. Topdog/Underdog tickets range $35-$75. For information, call (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250.