Jitney, August Wilson's hugely-acclaimed look at denizens at a Pittsburgh cab stand, will end its commercial run at the Union Square Theatre Jan. 28, capping a four-month run following the show's transfer from Second Stage Theatre's home space in midtown. Jitney comes to a halt after 20 previews and 311 regular performances (the numbers include performances at both venues).
Lauded by the New York Drama Critics Circle as the Best Play of the year, Jitney received unanimously strong reviews and won a special, non- competitive award from the Drama Desk for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. The show, which started previews April 8 and opened April 25 at Second Stage, was originally supposed to run through May 21 and then extended through July 16. The last extension was through Sept. 10, and the show then started up again in Union Square Sept. 19. The drama is produced by Center Theatre Group and Ben Mordecai, in association with Second Stage. (Prior to New York, Jitney began subscription previews Jan. 23 at the Mark Taper Forum and opened there Feb. 3 for a run through March 19.)
Directed by Marion McClinton, the cast of Jitney currently includes (in alphabetic order), Russell Andrews, Willis Burks II, Paul Butler, Anthony Chisholm, Leo V. Finnie III, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Barry Shabaka Henley, Keith Randolph Smith and Nichole Briana White. As reported by the New York Times, for the last month of the run, Linda Powell will take over the role currently played by White. Powell's regional theatrical credits are somewhat dwarfed by her father's political ones: He's General Colin Powell, soon to be Secretary of State as part of the Bush administration.
Asked about the casting, Powell told the Times, "Marion [McClinton] has given me a job every year since 1996. He just made it in before the end of the year." A graduate of Circle in the Square's theatre school, Powell joins the Jitney company Dec. 26.
The show's creative also team comprises set designer David Gallo, costume designer Susan Hilferty, lighting designer Donald Holder and sound designer Rob Milburn. Narda Alcorn is the production stage manager. The first play written by Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wilson, Jitney offers a look into 1970s Pittsburgh and the lives of a group of black men scraping out a living in a gypsy cab company (or jitney station). The play's central character, Charles Becker, is the owner of the unlicensed company who must deal with the city's plan to board up his business. He's also thrown by his the return of his son, Booster (Lumbly), after 20 years in prison. Other Wilson works include Two Trains Running, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars and Fences. His King Hedley II is Broadway bound this spring, with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Leslie Uggams in the cast.
For tickets ($51) and information on Jitney at Second Stage Theatre, 307 West 43rd Street, call (212) 246-4422.
In other Second Stage news, actor Mark Linn-Baker, best known for his years on TV's "Perfect Strangers" and work in filmdom's "My Favorite Year" will have a behind-the-scenes role this season. He's been tapped by Second Stage artistic director Carole Rothman to oversee the company while she takes a half-year vacation, starting January 2001.
A co-founder of New York Stage and Film, Linn-Baker was last seen OB in Chesapeake (a commercial production at the Second Stage space) and had recent Broadway roles in A Flea in Her Ear and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. A Second Stage spokesperson at the Richard Kornberg press office didn't know whether Linn-Baker would be choosing any shows for the following season or simply overseeing the Jan-Aug. 2001 slate chosen by Rothman.
Linn-Baker will be directing one show this season, however: a musical comedy by Willie Reale (book and lyrics) and Robert Reale (music) titled Once Around The City. Targeting previews June 12, 2001, City takes place in the money-driven Reagan era and pits a Yuppie real estate agent against an advocate for the homeless. Jennifer Muller choreographs.
In further Second Stage news, three veteran dramatists have been earmarked for the company's 2000-01 season. A recent revival of Edward Albee's Tiny Alice, and an upcoming remount of Beth Henley's Pulitzer-winning Crimes of the Heart are on the schedule, as is Cellini, a new play written and directed by John Patrick Shanley that started previews Jan. 24. Reg Rogers, last seen starring in a CSC revival of Look Back in Anger opposite Enid Graham, is the titular protagonist of Cellini, which examines Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini and his attempt to make great art while pleasing his benefactor, Pope Clement VII.
Shanley, best known for penning the “Moonstruck” screenplay, has penned such plays as The Big Funk, The Dreamer Examines His Pillow, Psychopathia Sexualis and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.
Rogers was a Tony nominee for his work opposite Laura Linney in an acclaimed Broadway revival of Holiday.
The final show of the Second Stage season will be Once Around the City, a new musical by Willie and Robert Reale. The production — to be directed by Mark Linn-Baker (who will be acting artistic director of the theatre for six months beginning in January 2001) and choreographed by Jennifer Muller — will begin previews June 12, 2001.
City, set in the 1980's, is described as an antidote to the "greed decade." The central story pits a yuppie real estate agent against an advocate of the homeless. Romance, comedy, Reaganomics and a jazzy score are mixed into the show.
The brothers Reale have written six musicals together, including Quark Victory, which played at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1999. That quirky tuner centered around a teenage girl named Samantha who takes an amazing journey into the nucleus of an atom. Karen Ziemba and Wilson Jermaine Heredia starred in the production.
For ticket and subscription information call Second Stage Theatre at (212) 787-5600.
— By David Lefkowitz