After Kenny Leon directed Denzel Washington in the 2010 revival of August Wilson’s Fences, they made a pact: The Atlanta director and the Hollywood titan would continue to work as a theatrical team. So not long ago, Leon told Washington it was time to make good on that handshake. After some back-and-forth, they settled on Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. In this month’s Broadway revival, Washington will star as Hansberry’s unlucky hero, Walter Lee Younger, while TV pioneer Diahann Carroll (Julia, Dynasty) plays his exasperated mother, Lena.
Ten years ago, when Leon made his Broadway debut with the first revival of Raisin, he raised eyebrows by casting rapper Sean Combs as Walter Lee and Cosby Show alum Phylicia Rashad as the matriarch. “What made me love that show was the kind of humbleness that [Combs] brought to Walter Lee and the kind of physicality and sensuality that Phylicia brought to the mother,” Leon recalls. (As it turned out, both Rashad and Audra McDonald, who portrayed Walter Lee’s wife, Ruth, took home Tonys.) So what does Leon expect two-time Oscar winner Washington to bring to the table? “His comedic timing and his way of finding humor in a character is just amazing,” Leon says. “Denzel also has a volcanic quality when he’s pushed. So I think his Walter Lee will be more explosive, and he will be more humorous.” Finally, if you believe in good luck charms, here’s one for you: The Hansberry classic will unfold at the Ethel Barrymore, the same theater where Sidney Poitier originated the role in 1959.
Previews begin March 8, opens April 3; 800-432-7250, telecharge.com
This article originally appeared in our March 2014 issue under the headline “Raisin Redux.”