Thunder Knocking on the Door, the blues fable about the Devil and a Southern-fried guitar-licks competition, has been rumbling in regional theatres for several years, and it will finally make its New York City debut at Off-Broadway's Minetta Lane Theatre, Variety reported.
Producers Mitchell Maxwell and Ted Tulchin had planned to mount the play-with-music into the Minetta Lane in 2000, but that plan was abandoned in order to give the work more time for development and to match the right director to the project. Maxwell told Playbill On-Line he put $250,000 into the development of the show and had such contentious dealings with playwright Keith Glover that he abandoned the project. Maxwell (Summer of '42, Bells Are Ringing) is not a part of the producing team for the current plan. Tulchin is lead producer.
The work by playwright Keith Glover, with original music by Keb' Mo' and Anderson Edwards, will be directed by Oskar Eustis, artistic director of Trinity Repertory company in Rhode Island, where the show was seen in a Feb. 15-March 24 staging directed by Marion McClinton (Jitney, King Hedley II). That run featured Tony Award-winner Chuck Cooper, Peter J. Fernandez, Marva Hicks, Michael McElroy and Tony-winner Leslie Uggams. No casting has been announced for New York.
Tulchin told Variety McClinton had another commitment and that Eustis knows the project well. Variety reported the opening as June 20. The Jason Robert Brown marriage-themed musical, The Last 5 Years, closes May 5 following a runs since March.
* Producer Maxwell had helped shepherd Thunder Knocking on the Door in a number of nonprofit venues, including Arena Stage, Geva and the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, and had hoped to find a Broadway house for the unique original work, which does not draw on previous source material. "We did it in those five venues to use the road to make the show as good as possible," Maxwell previously told Playbill On Line.
Glover's play takes place in 1966 and concerns the family of a great but undiscovered bluesman who dies from black lung disease. With his family in financial and emotional need, in steps Marvell Thunder, a guitar-wielding stranger who may be their salvation — or ruination.
What drew Maxwell to the piece?
"I think the music is absolutely sensational...it's unlike any Broadway score but it's truly a Broadway[-style] score full of great [character] songs. The essence of the story and the message is quite exciting."
Thunder takes place at "the crossroads of here and there," where a "shape shifter" challenges a songstress to a magical duel on the delta blues guitar.
Playwright-director Glover discovered theatre when his mother took him to see For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf. An athletic high school student, Glover wrote a play about football in 1981 that came to the attention of New York's Young Playwrights Festival, where he was especially encouraged by mentor Ruth Goetz (The Heiress).
Thunder was commissioned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, where it was first produced in 1996. It went on to receive productions at the Arena Stage and the Cincinnati Playhouse, winning the 1997 Osborn Award for Best Play from the American Theatre Critics Association.
Glover has written several plays, including Dancing on the Moonlight and Coming of the Hurricane. Keb' Mo' (Kevin Moore) received a Grammy in 1997 for his contemporary blues album "Just Like You."
— By Kenneth Jones