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Entertainment & Arts

‘A Soldier’s Play’ comes to Broadway, finally, 35 years after ‘A Soldier’s Story’

“A Soldier’s Story”
The 1984 film “A Soldier’s Story,” pictured here, earned Academy Award nominations and helped to launch Denzel Washington’s career. But the play on which it was based never made it to Broadway.
(Columbia Pictures / Photofest)

“A Soldier’s Play,” the Pulitzer-winning work by Charles Fuller that helped to launch the careers of Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, is finally headed to Broadway.

Tony-winning director Kenny Leon is commanding the charge, and David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star. Additional casting will be announced later.

For the record:
10:10 AM, Aug. 22, 2019 An earlier version of this article misidentifed a cast member of the 1981 off-Broadway production of “A Soldier’s Play.” The actor should have been identified as Larry Riley, not Larry B. Riley.

Preview performances for the Roundabout Theatre Company production’s limited run will begin at the American Airlines Theatre on Dec. 27, ahead of opening night on Jan. 21.

Set in 1944, the military drama begins with the mysterious murder of Sgt. Vernon C. Waters (Grier) on a Louisiana Army base. Capt. Richard Davenport (Underwood) is tasked with solving the crime quickly, at the request of his white superiors.

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At first glance, the flashback-filled piece appears to be a conventional whodunit or courtroom drama. But at its core, it’s what The Times previously called a “harrowing study of self-negation,” especially within the African American male identity.

“The play is not designed that it should be a salve for all racial problems that operate in the United States — I don’t think anyone knows the answers to those kinds of questions — but it might touch on some things,” Fuller told The Times of the forthcoming Broadway staging. “I hope people enjoy it, and walk away from the theater understanding more about the country than when they walked in.”

Leon — who most recently directed Shakespeare in the Park’s bold staging of “Much Ado About Nothing,” starring “Orange Is the New Black” breakout Danielle Brooks — considers the Broadway debut of “A Soldier’s Play” an urgent one.

Kenny Leon
Tony-winning director Kenny Leon will helm the play's Broadway debut.
(Theo Wargo / Getty Images)

“I think America needs to hear the newness and the freshness of this play, even though it was first produced in the mid-’80s,” he said. “To me, the play is a deep investigation of the impact of racism on a specific race and culture. For example, in the play, how does the racism in our country affect the black soldiers dealing with other black men while serving the country?

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“If you’re looking at our country now, what is the racism toward the Latino and Hispanic community now doing to that community within itself? Fuller doesn’t take the easy way out; he deals with all the resentment and self-hatred that comes from that.”

“A Soldier’s Play” premiered off-Broadway in 1981 with Washington, Jackson, Adolph Caesar, Larry Riley, Peter Friedman and Charles Brown among the original cast of the Negro Ensemble Company production (with Grier rotating in later in the run). Fuller directed the work, which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Subsequent stagings have featured Anthony Mackie, Mike Colter, Taye Diggs, Wood Harris and Steven Pasquale, among others.

Fuller adapted his play into the 1984 film “A Soldier’s Story,” with Washington and Caesar reprising their stage roles onscreen. Directed by Norman Jewison, the movie also featured Grier and Patti LaBelle in the ensemble cast. It was nominated for three Academy Awards.

A Soldier’s Story
David Alan Grier, top left, was part of the play's film adaptation, "A Soldier's Story."
(Columbia Pictures/Photofest)

The new production’s design team will include set designer Derek McLane, costume designer Dede Ayite, sound designer Dan Moses Schreier and lighting designer Allen Lee Hughes (who worked on the original staging of “A Soldier’s Play”).

Roundabout also announced on Monday the Broadway transfer of “Caroline, or Change” from the West End. Sharon D. Clarke will reprise her titular, Olivier-winning performance in the Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori musical, directed by Michael Longhurst and choreographed by Ann Yee. It will begin performances on March 13 and open on April 7 at Studio 54.


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