A LIFE IN THE THEATRE: Director Kenny Leon on Lorraine Hansberry, Tupac Shakur and Diversity in the Theatre

By Mervyn Rothstein
27 May 2014

Kenny Leon
Kenny Leon
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Meet Tony nominee Kenny Leon, currently at the helm of A Raisin in the Sun and the upcoming production of Holler If Ya Hear Me.

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"I've always been interested in diversity," director Kenny Leon said. "Especially Americans different in age and race and culture sitting next to each other watching the same story." And he gets "to see how they leave the theatre, see what kind of questions they're asking each other at intermission."

Leon, 58, has spent his career fulfilling that interest.



On Broadway, he has directed three August Wilson plays — Fences, Radio Golf and Gem of the Ocean. His other Broadway credits include the Tony Award–nominated 2004 revival of Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 A Raisin in the Sun starring Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Audra McDonald and Phylicia Rashad. For over a decade, he was artistic director of Atlanta's Alliance Theatre and is co-founding artistic director of Atlanta's True Colors Theatre Company.

This year finds him serving double duty on Broadway. First, he's directing a new Broadway revival of Raisin, starring Denzel Washington, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. He begins previews at Broadway's Palace Theatre later this month for Holler If Ya Hear Me, featuring a score of songs by the late rap star Tupac Shakur. "We're using the music of Tupac, we're not telling the story of Tupac," he explained.

Leon was born in Tallahassee, Florida. "I had two very strong women in my life, my grandmother and my mother," he said.

In high school, he was in a federal Upward Bound program that prepared students from low-income families for college. "My mother and stepfather were making $10,000 a year, so college was not a reality for me. But Upward Bound made it a reality."

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