John Legend, who’s increasingly using his stature as a Grammy and Oscar-winning singer and songwriter (for “Glory,” co-written with Common for the film Selma) to promote theater projects that align with his social activism, has signed on as a co-producer of the upcoming Broadway premiere of August Wilson’s Jitney.
The play, one of the best in the late playwright’s “Pittsburgh Cycle,” is being presented by the non-profit Manhattan Theatre Club at its Broadway flagship, the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, “in association with” Eric Falkenstein, Ron Simons, John Legend/Mike Jackson, and Ken Wirth. The drama, the last in the ten-play, two-Pulitzer Prize-winnning series, is slated to begin previews December 28 and open January 19, with Ruben Santiago-Hudson directing.
The production coincides with Paramount’s December 16 release of Wilson’s Fences, directed by and starring Denzel Washington with Viola Davis, his co-star from a celebrated Broadway revival of the drama.
Most recently, Legend added his name to the producing team behind the off-Broadway production of Turn Me Loose, which featured Joe Morton in a brilliant perfromance as comedian and social activist Dick Gregory.
Set in the early 1970s, Jitney follows a group of men trying to eke out a living by driving unlicensed cabs, or jitneys. When the city threatens to board up the business and the boss’ son returns from prison, tempers flare, potent secrets are revealed and the fragile threads binding these people together may come undone at last. It’s also full of rich humor. The creative team for the show includes David Gallo (set); Toni-Leslie James (costumes); Jane Cox (lighting), Darron L West (sound); Bill Sims, Jr. (original music); and Thomas Schall (fight director).
Jitney was given its New York premiere off-Broadway in April 2000 by the Second Stage; it moved to a commercial off-Broadway run the following fall. Manhattan Theatre Club today also announced complete casting for the play, set like nearly all the action in the cycle, in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, which Wilson called home for much of his life. The ensemble includes Harvy Blanks, Anthony Chisholm, Brandon Dirden, André Holland, Carra Patterson, Michael Potts, Keith Randolph Smith, Ray Anthony Thomas and John Douglas Thompson.