Plans to move the Public Theater's summer 2001 production of Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog to Broadway have been on hold for so long that many suspected the transfer would never happen. But, armed with a new and unlikely star, the play appears to be headed for the Ambassador Theatre in March 2002, potentially giving the Public two Broadway shows this season, the first being Elaine Stritch's one-person show.
The New York Times reported Dec. 21 that rapper Mos Def would probably replace Don Cheadle in the production. As film star Cheadle ("Ocean's 11") became unavailable, director George C. Wolfe turned to Mos Def (nee Dante Smith), who has appeared in a couple films. Mos Def met Wolfe when the latter auditioned for a projected film of the musical Jelly's Last Jam.
Should the rapper sign on, the Public—which is fast becoming the home of unorthodox show scheduling (see Elaine Stritch: At Liberty)—may have to work around the performer's concert dates.
Don Cheadle and Jeffrey Wright played the sparring underclass hustler-siblings cursed with the names Lincoln and Booth, in the play's premiere at The Public Theater earlier this year. Producer Anita Waxman told Playbill On-Line the producers had hoped to bring the show uptown sooner, but because of the themes of violence in the work, they decided to wait until spring 2002, by which time theatregoers will have had time to catch their breath following the national tragedy of Sept. 11.
"It's an astounding piece of theatre," Waxman said. "It's one of those shows where you're paralyzed the entire time. You don't want to move. You're hanging onto every word. The performances are astonishing. Sadly, it shows you a piece of life in America. It gives the viewers a taste of real life that probably goes on every day. The performances by Don and Jeffrey are extraordinary."
The Wolfe staging ended its extended summer at The Public Theater's Anspacher Theater Sept. 2. 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. Cheadle's film credits include "Out of Sight" and "Traffic." He appeared in The Public Theater's 1989 production of Cymbeline.
Parks' In the Blood (a Pulitzer Prize finalist) played the Public in 1999-2000, and her Fucking A will play at the theatre in winter 2002.
Topdog was Wolfe's first directing assignment since 1999-2000's The Wild Party. Topdog/Underdog designers were Riccardo Hernandez (scenic), Emilio Sosa (costumes), Scott Zielinski (lighting) and Dan Moses Schreier (sound).