Significant changes have been made to the cast of August Wilson’s new drama, King Hedley II, in its progression from Pittsburgh to Huntington, MA, to Los Angeles, to Chicago, to DC and Broadway in the spring. Though Charles Brown, Lou Myers, Monte Russell remain with the show, some major roles have new players, including Tony-winner Leslie Uggams signing on as Ruby, and “Law & Order” first-season castmember, Richard Brooks, as the title character.
Harry Lennix had played Hedley in Los Angeles for all but the final week, when Jerome Butler came into the role. Juanita Jennings played the role now essayed by Uggams, whose Broadway credits include Jerry’s Girls, Blues in the Night and her Tony-winning turn in Hallelujah, Baby!. Yvette Ganier plays Tonya, replacing Mone Walton.
Though dates have now been chosen for the Broadway mounting at the Virginia Theatre — previews March 31, 2001, opening April 16, 2001 — New York casting has yet to be announced, according to the Barlow Hartman press office (reached Nov. 21). The producing team is Sageworks, Benjamin Mordecai, Jujamcyn Theaters, Scott Rudin and the Manhattan Theatre Club.
Before New York, the play will travel from Chicago to Washington DC and open at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, March 1, 2001.
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, the Hill District, and deals with the triumphs and trials of a community torn apart. King Hedley, a refrigerator salesman, rages against his past and present to his friend, Mister, while his pregnant wife Tonya fears to bring a child into their world. His mother, Ruby, is a holdover from a previous Wilson drama, Seven Guitars. A two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, Wilson also wrote Fences, The Piano Lesson and Jitney, currently receiving a wildly-acclaimed staging by the Second Stage Theater Company Off Broadway. When the curtain goes up on King Hedley II in Chicago on Nov. 30, it will also go up on the Goodman Theatre's new Albert Ivar Goodman Theatre space. The long-standing Windy City theatre made the first step toward that day Oct. 31, when the Wilson drama began rehearsals. The show, directed by Marion McClinton, officially opens Dec. 11 and runs in Chi town through Jan. 13, 2001.
Set design for Chicago, DC and Broadway will be by David Gallo, costumes by Toni-Leslie James, lighting by Donald Holder and sound design by Rob Milburn. In Chicago, Dianne R. McIntyre is serving as choreographer.
For tickets and information about King Hedley II at the Goodman, call (312) 443-3800. New York box office information will be announced soon.
In other Goodman Theatre news, the organization celebrated the birth of its new North Loop home with two weeks of festivities, beginning Nov. 4 and leading up to a round-the-clock party Nov. 18. The complex, the theatre's first new facility since 1925, is located on Dearborn Street between Randolph and Lake, the historic site of the Garrick and Woods theatres and the landmark Harris and Selwyn theatres.
The Albert Ivar Goodman Theatre will be a tradition proscenium stage, slightly largely than the current mainstage, and equipped with a full fly tower and improved acoustics. The Owen Butler Goodman Theatre, meanwhile, has a timber-frame construction (with exposed fir beams) and can take any number of forms, including end stage, thrust, arena and runway.
Both theatres will be fully soundproofed, to shield performances from the noise of the rumbling elevated trains of the Loop area.
Recently, there was a major shuffle in the 2000-01 schedule at the Goodman, affecting three of the five mainstage slots and one of the second-stage selections. The most remarkable change was the jettisoning of a projected production of Edward Albee's monumental drama, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which would have run Jan. 19-Feb. 24, 2001. Though the show was never officially announced, reports had Robert Falls directing and courting stars such as Patti LuPone and Stockard Channing.
Woolf is nowhere on the roster now, replaced by the U.S. premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's duet of plays, House and Garden, a hit in London. Falls will direct the connected works, about Teddy Platt, a philandering lord who has hopes for a seat in Parliament. House, which takes place in the Platt manor house, will run Jan. 19-Feb. 24 at the Goodman's new Albert Ivar Theatre. Garden, meanwhile, will run simultaneously at the smaller Owen Bruner Theatre. The plays will open on Jan. 29.
It was unclear why Falls forsook his plans to stage Woolf, though the unavailability of the desired cast may have influenced the decision. Also, Minneapolis' Guthrie Theatre has scheduled a production of the Albee play at almost exactly the same time (Feb. 24-April 15), directed by David Esbjornson. The Guthrie is also reportedly seeking big stars for the mounting.
The until-now-unannounced fifth mainstage production will be Margaret Edson's Wit—an unusual choice, since by now much of the country has seen the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, which debuted in New York in the fall of 1998.
A couple of previously announced plays have shifted position. Rebecca Gilman's latest, The Great Baseball Strike of 1994, will now fill the final mainstage slot, June 29-Aug. 4, instead of bowing in May. The play was to have been directed by Michael Maggio, who recently died. The Goodman is currently searching for a new director.
Gilman is currently the playwright of the moment. Her controversial play about political correctness at a small Vermont college, Spinning Into Butter, recently opened at Lincoln Center Theater, marking her New York debut. Another play, Boy Gets Girl, is due to play at Manhattan Theatre Club this coming season. (MTC is also looking for a director to replace Maggio.)
Finally, a new work by theatrical auteur and Goodman associate Mary Zimmerman, planned for the Bruner Theatre, has been postponed. The theatre cited "the unavailability of rights."
The 2000-2001 schedule now runs as follows:
The Albert Ivar Goodman Theatre:
• King Hedley II, in the Albert Ivar Goodman Theatre, Nov. 30-Jan. 6, 2001 (opening Dec. 11).
• House by Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Robert Falls, Jan. 19-Feb. 24, 2001 (opening Jan. 29).
• James Baldwin's The Amen Corner, March 16-April 21 (opening March 26). Chuck Smith directs the 1954 work about Sister Margaret Alexander, who risks losing her Harlem church and her son when her vagabond, jazz musician husband returns home.
• Wit by Margaret Edson, directed by Steve Scott, May 11-June 16 (opening May 21).
• The Great Baseball Strike of 1994 by Rebecca Gilman, director TBA, June 29-Aug. 4 (July 9).
The Owen Bruner Goodman Theatre:
• Garden by Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Robert Falls, Jan. 19-Feb. 24, 2001 (opening Jan. 29).
• Chekhov won't know what hit him when Regina Taylor's new adaptation of The Seagull premieres, April 27-May 27 (opening May 7). Actress-playwright Taylor has relocated the drama to the historic Gullah Islands off the coast of modern-day South Carolina. The family is now African-American and Konstantin is a performance artist. No director has been named.