What clearly set Raisin in the Sun apart was that it deals with a black American family not a white American family.
I acquired the rights for a Broadway revival and began the task of getting it started, which meant we needed a director. If you have a good director, you can get the stars, and the stars make the show happen. They also had to be African American. The problem is there were only two people in the world that fit this, first is George Wolf and the second was Mariam Clinton. We had, as they say, artistic differences. Being a producer is like being a magician, you have to create the illusion for everyone that everything is moving forward all the time. White people told me it’s a black play and black people won’t come to broadway, and black people tell me the play is dated.
There was not one other African American director who had major Broadway experience. Raisin not a performance piece, it’s very well laid out by Lorraine. Isn’t the theater where men potrayed women 400 years ago, or the color-blind casting of the 70s. At the core was that story. Wilson said, “I’m not carrying a banner for black directors, I decline a white director not on the basis of race, but on the basis of culture.” We’ve heard this story before when Spielberg directed A Color Purple. We’re seeing the same story played out in the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington D.C. Back to Raisin. It’s now four years: no star, no director, there’s a possibility I’ll lose the rights.
I took a risk on a regional director, who had exactly one minor New York credit. Sean P. Diddy Combs would be making his Broadway debut with us. Kenny led the cast both onstage and off, and sure enough the scenes that usually put audiences to sleep, were riveting. Each night when they got to those scenes got an ovation. Raisin would succeed in drawing huge numbers of African Americans to the theater, most performances wer 80% black.
Most memorable night for me was when Mohammad Ali came. I’ve never seen famous people get so excited about seeing another famous people. P. Diddy grabs a picture of him he had on his dresser to get him to sign it. I think about it and I try to figure out where that leaves us, I feel a great love for this play and a deep connection to it, and I think many do, when I was watching Milk last week I was so happy gay people had made that movie. But should only women direct movies about women, or Muslim people direct plays about Muslims? It was Kenny’s culture, not his race, that contributed to the success of the production amoung many other factors. If there was a black director that grew up in Beverly Hills, would he be as qualified as one from Chicago?
Lincoln theater will be doing the first major rivival of August Wilson’s play since his death. Ultimately in this age of ubercommunications, the theater somehow survives. The reason is that theater, like this, is ultimately about community. I want the communities to grow and evolve, and to this I think we have to tell each other stories, but sometimes to grow we need to really sit back and listen.