Will Jesse L. Martin Be Coming to Dinner?

News   Will Jesse L. Martin Be Coming to Dinner?
 
Jesse L. Martin, the nine-year veteran of TV's "Law & Order," might have something new on his plate — a Broadway-aimed stage version of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
Jesse L. Martin
Jesse L. Martin

The Hollywood Reporter says that Martin, whose last appearance on the flagship "Law & Order" series is scheduled for April 23, is currently in negotiations to star as Dr. John Prentice — the role made famous by Sidney Poitier — in the Kenny Leon-directed Dinner play.

Exact production dates have not been announced, but a fall launch is expected. No other casting is public.

Leon staged Broadway's recent A Raisin in the Sun. Martin created the role of Collins in the groundbreaking musical Rent.

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A starry first-reading of the new script of the Broadway-bound stage premiere of the 1967 Academy Award-winning film took place in Manhattan on Nov. 14, 2007, under the auspices of Jeffrey Finn Productions. Finn was producer of the recent Tony Award-nominated revival of On Golden Pond. As previously announced, this first-ever stage production based on the celebrated film will be directed by Leon (A Raisin in the Sun, Gem of the Ocean, Radio Golf) and adapted for the stage by Todd Kreidler from the original Oscar-winning screenplay by William Rose.

The private, invitation-only reading was a "table read" for the new script, and this cast does not necessarily reflect a future cast.

The reading cast featured Tony Award winner and two-time Emmy Award winner Blythe Danner (Butterflies Are Free, Follies, "Huff," "Will & Grace") as Christina Drayton — the role originated on film by the late Katharine Hepburn; two-time Tony Award nominee Larry Bryggman (Proof, Picnic, Twelve Angry Men) as Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy's role); British stage and film star David Oyelowo ("The Last King of Scotland," title role in the RSC's Henry IV) as Dr. John Prentice (created by Sidney Poitier); Gillian Jacobs (star of the recent A Feminine Ending at Playwrights Horizons) as Joanna "Joey" Drayton; two-time Tony Award winner James Naughton (Chicago, City of Angels, Democracy) as Monsignor Ryan; Tony Award winner Leslie Uggams (Hallelujah, Baby!; On Golden Pond) as Mary Prentice; Bill Nunn (A Raisin in the Sun, Robbie in the "Spider-Man" films) as John Prentice, Sr.; Lynda Gravátt (King Hedley II, Miss Witherspoon, The Old Settler) as Matilda "Tillie" Binks; and Leslie Hendrix (Hollywood Arms, Indiscretions, "Law & Order" series) as Hilary St. George.

According to Finn Productions, "Following a life-altering romance in Hawaii, Joey Drayton brings her fiancé, Dr. John Prentice, home to sunny San Francisco to meet her affluent parents. Their liberal persuasions are put to the test when they find out their daughter's fiancé, while an ideal choice — a handsome, wealthy, brilliant, internationally-renown doctor from a respectable family — is African-American."

Leon has directed three critically acclaimed Broadway productions. Kreidler served as dramaturg to the late August Wilson on both Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf. Leon is co-founder and artistic director of True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta, where Kreidler serves with him as associate artistic director. In addition to their work together on Broadway (on Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf) and at True Colors, Leon and Kreidler collaborated on The Kennedy Center's August Wilson's 20th Century — the first chronological look at all ten plays by Wilson, in showcase productions in March 2008. Leon is the festival's artistic director.

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Leon said in an earlier statement, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is about truth and hypocrisy in the most wonderful country in the world. Given the times we live in, and the conditions of this country and the world, the essential story is still extremely timely. We need to look inward at ourselves to see who we are as Americans at our core. Are we who we say we are? Do we live the lives we dream about? This story is a delicate balance of comedy and drama on a search for personal truth. What a wonderful opportunity to rediscover and take a fresh look at this iconic work."

Adaptor Kreidler added, "What's more current than a story set in a society riven by intolerance and fear? We forget: only a generation ago America drank from separate fountains. This love story offers a way to expose the fear and intolerance and see what happens when a couple attempts to share the water in even the most apparently liberal of homes."

Speaking on behalf of his father, the late William Rose, Kindred Rose stated, "The themes of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner are as relevant now as they have ever been. Jeffrey Finn is the first producer to conceive of a major stage version, and it's clear this will be both entirely true to the original ideas and concepts of the screenplay, yet a thoroughly new adaptation. If my father were alive, I know he would approve."

Up until six months before the film premiered, interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 Southern states — until June 12, 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court in the case "Loving v. Virginia," declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional.

Directed by Stanley Kramer, and originally billed as "A love story of today," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" opened on Dec. 12, 1967 to rave reviews. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards including Best Picture, winning two: Original Screenplay for Rose and Best Actress for Hepburn.

The film inspired a race-reversed remake of sorts in the 2005 pic, "Guess Who," starring Bernie Mac (as the father) and Ashton Kutcher (as the fiancé).

For more information, visit www.DinnerOnBroadway.com.

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Producer Jeffrey Finn received a 2005 Tony Award nomination for Best Play Revival for the Broadway production of On Golden Pond starring James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams. Additional credits include the 2006 revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama The Subject Was Roses; On Golden Pond (national tour); The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber; Game Show (for which Finn is also a co-author); The Who's Tommy; A Few Good Men...DANCIN' (U.S. and international productions); Tell Me on a Sunday; Leader of the Pack; Promises, Promises; Company; Chess; and a series of national concert tours produced under the aegis Broadway Songbooks.

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