By Michael Gioia
19 May 2014
|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Director Kenny Leon made his Broadway debut with the 2004 revival of A Raisin in the Sun. Ten years later, Leon, who has directed the Lorraine Hansberry classic five times, was honored for his work on the current revival of the drama, which explores family values and the acquisition of the American Dream. Aside from Best Direction, Raisin, which plays Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre and is led by acclaimed stage and screen actor Denzel Washington, received nods for Best Actress in a Play (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Sophie Okonedo, Anika Noni Rose) and Best Revival.
Playbill.com spoke with Leon at the April 30 Tony Awards nominees press junket about his three Tony-nominated leading ladies — as well as the lack of Tony acknowledgement for his leading man — the importance of Hansberry's work and his next Broadway endeavor, the Tupac Shakur-scored musical Holler If Ya Hear Me.
Kenny Leon: Yeah, because I think Lorraine Hansbury was one of our greatest American writers, and the play certainly is one of the four or five top American plays. [It] is the play — like every classic — that keeps on giving, so ten years from now, there will be a reason to do it again because it is the play that allows America to hold a mirror up to itself. With this production, I'm very excited because I don't ever recall having a cast this strong from top to bottom — down to the moving men [Keith Eric Chappelle and Billy Eugene Jones] — so I'm very proud of it. I think because we look at 1959 through the lens of 2014 — there's a lot that's happen[ed] in our country in the last ten years: [the election of an] African-American president, Trayvon Martin's murder, the growth of the Tea Party, the housing market collapsed — [we can better understand] all the things that Lorraine was writing about. But, the main thing that she was writing about was that every person should have equal value… And, "How do all of us have access to the American Dream in the same way?" You look at that, and you can say a lot about our country. And, what we did with this production is made it an intimate production. It's more intimate than the production I did ten years ago — we move the set closer to you, we take in some of the melodrama of it — so it's like you're eavesdropping on an American family, so those universal themes come across clear: love of family, love of country, the courage of a family to hang together… I'm really proud. I'm proud of the work these women have done on this stage.
What were you feeling yesterday, after you learned that all three of your leading ladies were nominated?
KL: I cried when they announced LaTanya's name. I only really heard the first four categories because I was listening to CBS, but when they announced LaTanya, I just cried. I was disappointed that Denzel wasn't acknowledged for his wonderful work, but then I headed out the door to rehearsal for this new musical I'm working on, and then my agent called and said, "You got nominated!" I said, "What are you talking about?" And, she said, "You got nominated," so I said, "Wow. How did the women do?" She said, "Wait a minute… I'm watching it now. Sophie got nominated! Anika got nominated!" So I just screamed and fell on my knees, said a prayer, and then went out the door and walked 50 blocks to rehearsal.