Kenny Leon to direct Broadway-bound ‘Wiz’ live for NBC in December
Atlanta director Kenny Leon will direct the next live musical for NBC, “The Wiz,” on Dec. 3, the network announced Monday. The show, which will feature performers from Cirque du Soleil, also is headed for a 2016-17 Broadway run. Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein will contribute new material to the original Broadway book by William F. Brown and work alongside Leon and executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. Zadan and Meron also executive produced “Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan” live for TV.
Leon worked with Zadan and Meron on a TV remake of “Steel Magnolias” and “Raisin in the Sun,” for which the Atlanta director earned a Tony.
“We love this yearly tradition and we’re more excited than ever to not only bring another Broadway musical to America’s living rooms, but also see it land on Broadway as well,” NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said in the announcement. “It’s a natural next step for our live musical events, and we’re so pleased to be in business with this award-winning creative team … Cirque’s incredible imagination will help bring the fantasy world of Oz vividly to life and give this great show a modern spin on the age-old story we all love.”
“The Wiz” is a retelling, in an African-American context, of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” with a book by William F. Brown and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. Starting in 1975, it ran for four years on Broadway. It scored seven Tonys, including best musical. For a number of years, it also was the holiday show of Leon’s Atlanta-based troupe, True Colors Theatre Company.
Children of a Lesser God
The Tony-winning 1980 play Children of a Lesser God is set to return to Broadway for the first time. The new production will be directed by Kenny Leon, who took home the Tony this year for directing A Raisin in the Sun. The Mark Medoff-penned show will open at a theater to be announced in the 2015-16 season.
No cast has been set for the revival, although producer Hal Luftig told The New York Times that he and Leon aim to cast a company comprised of various ethnicities. The producer also confirmed that he and Leon did intend to cast a deaf actress as Sarah, noting, “anything else would be insulting to the deaf community.”
Children of a Lesser God tells the story of James Leeds, a new teacher at a school for the deaf, and Sarah Norman, the school’s one-time star student who has stayed behind as its cleaning woman rather than venturing out into the hearing world. James immediately takes a keen interest in Sarah, and tries to persuade her to communicate orally by lip reading as they kindle a romance beyond word. The original Broadway production starred Phyllis Frelich and John Rubinstein, who both won Tonys for their performances. The screen adaptation received five Academy Award nominations and earned Marlee Matlin the 1987 Oscar for Best Actress.
Holler If Ya Hear Me
Directed by Kenny Leon
Holler If Ya Hear Me, the world inside Tupac Shakur’s music and lyrics, blazes to life in a non-biographical story about friendship, family, revenge, change and hope. Inner city lives struggle for peace against the daily challenges they face in this entertaining and original musical. Through the poetry of one of the 20th century’s most influential and culturally prominent voices, we are given a window into realities of the streets still relevant today.