Celebrating Forest Whitaker On Broadway
Thursday night in New York mogul producer Harvey Weinstein hosted the opening soirée for Hughie, the Michael Grandage-directed production of the Eugene O’Neill classic starring Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker playing the role of a drunken small-time hustler revisiting his glory days.
Brit director Michael Grandage staged the production, which reassembles the design team of Christopher Oram (sets and costumes), Neil Austin (lighting) and Adam Cork (sound), all of whom won Tony Awards in 2010 for Red, as did Grandage.
Written in 1942 and first produced in 1958, the hour-long O’Neill play is essentially a monologue piece set in a West Side midtown Manhattan hotel in summer 1928. The character to be played by Whitaker, Erie Smith, laments the death of the hotel night clerk Hughie, regaling his successor with tales of their shared past.
Jason Robards starred in the play’s first Broadway production in 1964, and the part has also served as a vehicle for Burgess Meredith, Ben Gazzara, Al Pacino and Brian Dennehy, among others. Whitaker’s casting in the role traditionally played by a white actor continues the trend of a Broadway season already notable for the prevalence of diversity casting.
Hughie marks the second O’Neill play of the 2015-16 season, alongside Roundabout’s production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, starring Jessica Lange, Gabriel Byrne, Michael Shannon and John Gallagher Jr., which begins performances March 31.
A best actor Oscar winner in 2007 for The Last King of Scotland, Whitaker was recently seen onscreen in Southpaw; his upcoming film projects include Star Wars: Rogue One. He joins a starry roster of actors taking their first Broadway bows this season, including Keira Knightley,Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Jennifer Hudson, Marlee Matlin, Ben Whishaw, Saoirse Ronan, George Takei and Mark Strong.
In addition to Red, which starred Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne, Grandage’s Broadway directing credits include Frost/Nixon with Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, Hamlet with Jude Law, and The Cripple of Inishmaan with Daniel Radcliffe.
The esteem for Whitaker’s talents was evident not only by the standing ovation he got postshow, but also in the impressive turnout downtown at Elyx House to celebrate the premiere. Industry legends Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Matthew Broderick, Sting, Richard Dreyfuss, Bebe Neuwirth, and Kelsey Grammer mingled alongside next-gen stars Rami Malek, Paul Dano, and Zoe Kazan, giving the evening an old guard–meets-new feel. Man-of-the-moment Whitaker basked in his achievement and the sound of early Tony buzz, but the real winner may be Broadway itself—it isn’t every day the Great White Way gains another buzzy, must-see show.
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