August Wilson's latest drama, King Hedley II, will officially open on Broadway May 1, with Brian Stokes Mitchell in the title role. Mitchell missed three performances, April 24-25, owing to his physician's call for "mandatory vocal rest" following a diagnosis of swollen vocal cords. The actor was supposed to return April 26, but another visit to his doctor resulted in Mitchell staying out of the show until Saturday, April 28.
The missed performances forced producers to change the show's opening night date from April 29 to May 1, and to shuffle press performances to accommodate critics who were supposed to attend previews this week. Understudy Keith Randolph Smith played the lead for the performances Mitchell missed. To allow for enough rehearsal time, the producers of Hedley had already pushed the Broadway opening at the Virginia Theatre back from April 16 to April 29.
The August Wilson drama reaches New York City after a long and circuitous tour of the nation's regional houses, capped by a month-long sojourn in Washington DC ending March 25. Previews began at Broadway's Virginia Theatre April 10.
Continuing his decade-by-decade examination of African American life in the United States, Wilson sets King Hedley II in 1985 in the black ghetto of Pittsburgh and deals with the triumphs and trials of a community torn apart. King Hedley rages against his past and present and his pregnant wife, Tonya, fears to bring a child into their world. A two time Pulitzer Prize-winner, Wilson also wrote Fences, The Piano Lesson and Seven Guitars. Brian Stokes Mitchell plays the lead. His casting was announced in early February, while he was still performing the Tony-winning role of Fred Graham in Kiss Me, Kate. Mitchell told Playbill On-Line that he had been planning to take several months off when the offer to play Hedley suddenly came in. After reading the play and meeting with director Marion McClinton, Mitchell decided to forego his long-anticipated vacation. He did not, however, give up a movie gig, the shooting of which limited his rehearsal period prior to the D.C. opening.
Mitchell said he is contracted to stay with Hedley until early September. After that, he will go straight into rehearsal for the London production of Kiss Me, Kate, set to bow in the West End in October.
Viola Davis plays Tonya in King Hedley II. Davis appeared on Broadway in Wilson's Seven Guitars, a work that is a sort of prequel to Hedley. Also in the cast are Leslie Uggams as Ruby, Hedley's mother; Charles Brown as Elmore; Stephen McKinley Henderson as Stool Pigeon; and Monte Russell as Mister. The characters of Ruby and Stool Pigeon are carried over from Seven Guitars.
Hedley debuted at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre and then ran at the Huntington Theatre in Boston before beginning L.A. performances Sept. 2, 2000. A Chicago run at the Goodman Theatre followed, Nov. 30, 2000-Jan. 13, 2001.
Significant changes were made to the cast of Hedley in its progression across the nation. Stokes is at least the fifth King Hedley in the production's history. Tony Todd played the part in Pittsburgh and Boston. Harry Lennix was crowned king at La Jolla, only to have Jerome Butler steal his title during the run's last week. Finally, Richard Brooks starred in Chicago. Ruby has been played, in chronological order, by Marlene Warfield, Juanita Jennings, and Uggams. Tonya, meanwhile, has been enacted by Ella Joyce, Mone Walton and Yvette Ganier, before Davis was hired. Charles Brown is the only actor to have remained with the show from the start.
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