Previews began Nov. 23 for the Carole Shorenstein Hays production. Hays, whose credits include Take Me Out and Caroline, or Change, is the angel producer who saved the once-imperiled Broadway venture.
The staging stars last season's Tony Award-winner, Phylicia Rashad (A Raisin in the Sun), as Aunt Ester, Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Caesar and LisaGay Hamilton as Black Mary. The cast also features John Earl Jelks as Citizen Barlow and Raynor Scheine as Rutherford Selig. Kenny Leon directs.
Gem of the Ocean is the ninth play in Wilson's 10-play cycle chronicling the African-American experience through each decade of the 1900s. The story, set in 1904, "begins on the eve of the 287th birthday of Aunt Ester (a recurring character in Wilson’s play cycle). Citizen Barlow, a man who is in spiritual turmoil, arrives at Aunt Ester’s house in Pittsburgh's Hill District and is soon set off on a spiritual journey to find the mythic City of Bones, leading him to startling discoveries and setting him on a course of duty and redemption."
"I am deeply passionate about this beautiful play by one of America's preeminent playwrights," said Hays in a statement. "I am especially proud to be working with August again. Our last project together, Fences, remains one of the high points in my producing career."
Gem of the Ocean, which had been struggling over the past month to replace a shortfall in its $2 million production budget, cancelled its Nov. 4-21 performances. Rocco Landesman, president of Jujamcyn Theatres, told the New York Times that the deal happened because his company and Hays received concessions from vendors and creative personnel.
The trouble began late in October, when a major investor pulled out of the venture, taking an unspecified chunk of the $2 million capitalization with them. The unexpected loss of cash sent original lead producer Benjamin Mordecai in search of new investors. Meanwhile, the load-in of the production's set into Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre was delayed, and a new marquee remained unhung.
Gem ended a Boston run on Oct. 30. It was to have begun previews at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Nov. 4 and open Nov. 11.
Wilson's many other works include Fences, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Seven Guitars, Two Trains Running, The Piano Lesson, King Hedley II and Jitney.