Brian Stokes Mitchell plays the title role in August Wilson's latest, King Hedley II, when the show holds court, pre-Broadway, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Previews began Feb. 25 for a monthlong run, through March 25. Official opening is March 7.
Mitchell is the Tony Award-winning star of Kiss Me, Kate and Ragtime. His casting was announced earlier this month, while he was still performing as Fred Graham in Kate. To allow for enough rehearsal time, the producers of Hedley pushed the Broadway opening at the Virginia Theatre back from April 16 to April 29.
Viola Davis will play the role of Tonya. Davis appeared on Broadway in Wilson's Seven Guitars, a work that is a sort of prequel to Hedley. Also in the cast are Leslie Uggams as Ruby, Hedley's mother; Charles Brown as Elmore; Stephen McKinley Henderson as Stool Pigeon; and Monte Russell as Mister. Marion McClinton directs the drama.
After runs in Pittsburgh and the Huntington Theatre in Boston, Hedley began L.A. performances Sept. 2, 2000. A Chicago run at the Goodman Theatre followed, Nov. 30, 2000-Jan. 13, 2001.
Continuing his decade-by-decade examination of African American life in the United States, Wilson sets King Hedley II in 1985 in the black ghetto of Pittsburgh and deals with the triumphs and trials of a community torn apart. King Hedley rages against his past and present and his pregnant wife, Tonya, fears to bring a child into their world. A two time Pulitzer Prize-winner, Wilson also wrote Fences, The Piano Lesson and Seven Guitars. Set design is by David Gallo, costumes by Toni-Leslie James, lighting by Donald Holder and sound design by Rob Milburn.
Significant changes were made to the cast of Hedley in its progression across the nation. Stokes is at least the fifth King Hedley in the production's history. Tony Todd played the part in Pittsburgh and Boston. Harry Lennix was crowned king at La Jolla, only to have Jerome Butler steal his title during the run's last week. Finally, Richard Brooks starred in Chicago. Ruby has been played, in chronological order, by Marlene Warfield, Juanita Jennings, and Uggams. Tonya, meanwhile, has been enacted by Ella Joyce, Mone Walton and Yvette Ganier, before Davis was hired. Charles Brown is the only actor to have remained with the show from the start.
Tickets are $20-$68. For more information, call (212) 467-4600.