By Kenneth Jones
29 Apr 2010
Producers announced some principal casting for the show, subtitled The Ray Charles Musical, on April 29. As previously reported, Sheldon Epps will direct the new production, which will begin Broadway previews Oct. 8 at the Shubert theatre to be announced. Official opening will be Nov. 7.
Dixon (who earned a Tony nomination for The Color Purple) will play the acclaimed blues/country/soul/rock singer-songwriter Charles opposite Nikki Renée Daniels (currently in Broadway's Promises, Promises) as Della.
The Suzan-Lori Parks-scripted new musical, with music by the late Charles, will also feature Harrison White (Broadway's The Lion King, West End's Smokey Joe's Café) as Jeff Brown and recording artist Tasha Taylor making her Broadway debut as Margie Hendricks.
Dixon is a 2010 Lortel, Drama League & Outer Critics Circle nominee for playing a wrongly accused man in the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical The Scottsboro Boys, which recently ended its run at the Vineyard Theatre Off-Broadway. That show is moving forward to a regional production and then Broadway in 2010-11; Dixon's participation in Unchain My Heart would seem to prevent his 2010-11 casting in Scottsboro Boys. No dates have been announced for the latter musical, although a casting notice has indicated a fall 2010 Broadway launch.
Unchain My Heart will feature choreography by Kenneth L. Roberson with associate Edgar Godineaux, music supervision and arrangements by Rahn Coleman, orchestrations by Harold Wheeler and music direction by Shelton Becton.
The design team includes Riccardo Hernandez (sets), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Donald Holder (lights), Carl Casella (sound), Charles LaPointe (hair and wig). Casting is by Telsey & Company, technical supervision is by Theatersmith, Inc. and the general manager is Don Frantz & Laurie Brown of Town Square Productions, Inc.
Unchain My Heart will be presented on Broadway by Stuart Benjamin. Benjamin knew and worked with Charles for 15 years and produced the Oscar-nominated and award-winning film, "Ray."
According to the producers, "Unchain My Heart, The Ray Charles Musical explores the strength, humor and musical genius of the legendary Ray Charles. One of the greatest pioneering musical artists of all time, Ray Charles mastered everything from soul and rhythm & blues to gospel, jazz, country and pop. Set in his last live recording session, Unchain My Heart reveals Charles' remarkable life story through his music."
Pulitzer Prize winner Parks wrote Topdog/Underdog. For the new musical, she "weaves together true tales that reveal the spirit of the man whose life and music helped to define soul, and inspired people the world over."
Unchain My Heart features Charles' best-known hits including "Georgia on My Mind," "What'd I Say," "Mess Around," "Hit the Road, Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Got a Woman," "You Don't Know Me" and "Hallelujah, I Love Her So."
An earlier, developmental production was produced at the Pasadena Playhouse (Sheldon Epps, artistic director) in 2007 under the title of Ray Charles Live!
Tickets will become available in summer 2010 online at Telecharge.com or by phone at (212)239-6200.
Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson on Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, GA. He was a vocalist, performer, songwriter, bandleader and arranger who played keyboards and reeds. He worked in swing, blues, gospel, country, jazz and rock 'n' roll. He was known for taking artistic control and ownership of his own master recordings, and formed his own publishing companies and his own record labels. In the 1950s, "he broke down the barriers of sacred and secular music, fused elements of gospel, jazz and blues together and mixed it with a fiery, fervid style that would come to be known as soul music," according to his bio. In the 1960s, he helped integrate country and pop music with his crossover success, most notably with his "Modern Sounds of Country and Western Music, Vol. 1 and 2," both of which were released in 1962.
Charles' recording of "Georgia On My Mind" was made the official state song for Georgia in 1979.
Park is a playwright, screenwriter, novelist, essayist, actor and songwriter. Her new play, The Book of Grace, recently played the Public Theater. Her other plays include Venus (OBIE Award), In the Blood (Pulitzer Prize finalist), Fucking A, The America Play, Father Comes Home From The Wars, Part 1: The Union of My Confederate Parts and 365 Days/365 Plays.