HISTORY OF PRODUCTIONS AND RECEPTIONS!
With a cast in which all but one minor character is African-American, A Raisin in the Sun was considered to be a risky investment, and it took over a year for producer Philip Rose to raise enough money (about $1.5m) to launch the play.
After touring to positive reviews, the play premiered on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on March 11, 1959. The play transferred to the Belasco Theatre on October 19, 1959 and closed on June 25, 1960 after 530 total performances. Directed by Lloyd Richards, the cast comprised
Sidney Poitier…Walter Lee Younger
Claudia McNeil…Lena Younger
Ruby Dee…Ruth Younger
Diana Sands…Beneatha Younger
John Fiedler…Mark Lindner
Louis Gossett Jr…George Murchison
Glynn Turman …Travis Younger
Lonne Elder III…Bobo
Roy Glenn…Willie Harris
Ed Hall – moving man
Douglas Turner – moving man
Ossie Davis later took over as Walter Lee Younger, and Frances Williams as Lena Younger.
Waiting for the curtain to rise on opening night, Hansberry and producer Rose did not expect the play to be a success, for it had already received mixed reviews from a preview audience the night before. Though it received popular and critical acclaim, reviewers argued about whether the play was “universal” or particular to African-American experiences. The New York Drama Critics’ Circle named it the best play of 1959.
It was then produced on tour. A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, as well as the first play with a black director (Lloyd Richards) on Broadway.
Hansberry noted that it introduced details of black life to the overwhelmingly white Broadway audiences, while director Richards observed that it was the first play to which large numbers of black people were drawn. Frank Rich, in The New York Times stated that A Raisin in the Sun “changed American theater forever.”
West End production, 1959
Some five months after its Broadway opening, Hansberry’s play appeared in London’s West End, playing at the Adelphi Theatre from August 4, 1959. As on Broadway the director was Lloyd Richards, and the cast was as follows:
Kim Hamilton – Ruth Younger
John Adan – Travis Younger
Earle Hyman – Walter Lee Younger
Olga James – Beneatha Younger
Juanita Moore – Lena Younger
Bari Johnson – Joseph Asagai
Scott Cunningham – George Murchison
Meredith Edwards – Karl Lindner
Lionel Ngakane – Bobo
The play was presented (as before) by Philip Rose and David J. Cogan, in association with the British impresario Jack Hylton.
In 1961, a film version of A Raisin in the Sun was released featuring its original Broadway cast of Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Ivan Dixon, Louis Gossett, Jr. and John Fiedler. Hansberry wrote the screenplay, and the film was directed by Daniel Petrie. It was released by Columbia Pictures and Ruby Dee won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress. Both Poitier and McNeil were nominated for Golden Globe Awards, and Petrie received a special “Gary Cooper Award” at the Cannes Film Festival.
A musical version of the play, Raisin, ran on Broadway from October 18, 1973 to December 7, 1975. The book of the musical, which stayed close to the play, was written by Hansberry’s former husband, Robert Nemiroff. Music and lyrics were by Judd Woldin and Robert Brittan. The cast included Joe Morton (Walter Lee), Virginia Capers (Momma), Ernestine Jackson (Ruth), Debbie Allen (Beneatha) and Ralph Carter (Travis, the Youngers’ young son). The show won the Tony Award for Best musical.
1989 TV film
In 1989 the play was adapted into a TV film for PBS’ American Playhouse series, starring Danny Glover and Esther Rolle. This production received three Emmy Award nominations, but all were for technical categories. Bill Duke directed the production, while Chiz Schultz produced the production, which also featured Starletta DuPois and John Fiedler, who had starred in the original Broadway production and the 1961 film version. This production was based on an off-Broadway revival produced by the Roundabout Theatre.
The cast included Danny Glover (Walter Lee), Starletta DuPois (Ruth), Esther Rolle (Mama), and Kim Yancey (Beneatha).
Broadway revival, 2004
A revival ran on Broadway at the Royale Theatre from April 26, 2004 to July 11, 2004 at the Royale Theatre with the following cast:
Sean Combs – Walter Lee Younger
Audra McDonald – Ruth Younger
Phylicia Rashad – Lena Younger
Sanaa Lathan – Beneatha Younger
Bill Nunn – Bobo
David Aaron Baker – Karl Lindner
Lawrence Ballard – moving man
Teagle F. Bougere – Joseph Asagai
Frank Harts – George Murchison
Billy Eugene Jones – moving man
Alexander Mitchell – Travis Younger
The director was Kenny Leon with David Binder and Vivek Tiwary producers.
The play won two 2004 Tony Awards: Best Actress in a Play (Phylicia Rashad) and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Audra McDonald), and was nominated for Best Revival of a Play and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Sanaa Lathan).
2008 TV film
In 2008, Sean Combs (P. Diddy) and Audra McDonald starred in a television film directed by Kenny Leon. The film debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast by ABC on February 25, 2008. McDonald received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Ruth. According to Nielsen Media Research, the program was watched by 12.7 million viewers and ranked #9 in the ratings for the week ending March 2, 2008.
Broadway revival, 2014
A second revival ran on Broadway from April 3, 2014 to June 15, 2014 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The play won three 2014 Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Play, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Sophie Okonedo) and Best Direction of a Play (Kenny Leon).
Denzel Washington – Walter Lee Younger
Sophie Okonedo – Ruth Younger
LaTanya Richardson Jackson – Lena Younger
Anika Noni Rose – Beneatha Younger
Stephen McKinley Henderson – Bobo
David Cromer – Karl Lindner
Keith Eric Chappelle – moving man
Sean Patrick Thomas – Joseph Asagai
Jason Dirden – George Murchison
Billy Eugene Jones – moving man
Bryce Clyde Jenkins – Travis Younger
The Raisin Cycle
The 2010 Bruce Norris play Clybourne Park depicts the white family that sold the house to the Youngers. The first act takes place just after the events of A Raisin in the Sun; the second act takes place 50 years later.
The 2013 play by Kwame Kwei-Armah entitled Beneatha’s Place follows Beneatha after she leaves with Asagai to Nigeria, and instead of becoming a doctor, she becomes the Dean of Social Sciences at a respected and unnamed California University.
The two above plays are often referred to as “The Raisin Cycle” and were produced by Baltimore’s Center Stage in the 2012-2013 season. (The entire trilogy of plays, including A Raisin in The Sun, may also be referred to as “The Raisin Cycle.”)
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