The titular prop at the heart of the current Broadway revival of August Wilson's The Piano Lesson will have a second life after the stage. Following the completion of the play's run at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre January 29, the piano will take up permanent residency in its new home, The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Set in Pittsburgh's Hill District in 1936, The Piano Lesson follows a brother and sister who are embroiled in a battle over a family heirloom: a piano hand-carved by an enslaved ancestor. Designed by the show's scenic designer Beowulf Boritt, the piano was built at BB props in Little Falls, New York.
Kenneth Chenault, Chairperson for the National Museum of African American History and Culture Advisory Council, said in a statement, “The prospect of receiving this magnificent piece of theatre history into the collection of the Smithsonian African American Museum is exciting. It’s an important reminder of the significance of the Black voice in theatre and due recognition of the brilliance of August Wilson.”
Tony nominee LaTanya Richardson Jackson, the first woman to direct an August Wilson play on Broadway, helms the production which stars Samuel L. Jackson as Doaker Charles, John David Washington as Boy Willie, and Danielle Brooks as Berniece, joined currently in the cast by Michael Potts as Wining Boy, Ray Fisher as Lymon, Charles Browning as Avery, April Matthis as Grace, and Nadia Daniel and Jurnee Swan as Maretha at alternating performances. Continuing as understudies are Peter Jay Fernandez, Sharina Martin, Warner Miller, Doron JePaul Mitchell, and Kim Sullivan.
The creative team also includes Tony-winning music director Jason Michael Webb, who composed new music for the revival, Tony-winning set designer Beowulf Boritt, Tony-nominated costume designer Toni-Leslie James, Tony-nominated lighting designer Japhy Weideman, Tony-winning sound designer Scott Lehrer, Drama Desk-nominated designer Cookie Jordan, Tony-winning projection designer Jeff Snug, and choreographer Otis Sallid. Casting is by Calleri, Jensen, Davis, and general management is by Foresight Theatrical.
Wilson's play originally made its world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre in 1987 (with Samuel L. Jackson starring as Boy Willie). In 1990, the play was staged at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, and subsequently transferred to Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre. The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama received Tony nominations for Best Play, Best Direction of a Play, Best Featured Actor in a Play, Best Actor in a Play, and Best Featured Actress in a Play.