Denzel Washington has signed on to star in a revival of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play “Fences,” coming to Broadway in early 2010.
Washington will portray former Negro league baseball player Troy Maxson, the role that garnered James Earl Jones a Tony during the play’s first run in 1987. Producers for the 2010 revival are Carol Shorenstein Hays and Scott Rudin, and depending on reports, Kenny Leon is either in negotiations to direct or has already committed to direct the production.
Rehearsals start in February, with an April to mid-July run planned. Location for the play has not yet been determined. Washington last performed on Broadway in 2005, as Brutus in “Julius Caesar.”
The two-time Oscar winner joins a growing list of stars flocking to the Great White Way this year. Past months have seen high-grossers from both the large and small screens striving for Broadway success. Susan Sarandon and Geoffrey Rush gave critically acclaimed performances in “Exit the King,” and Marcia Gay Harden, James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis shined in “God of Carnage.” After 25 years away, Jeremy Irons returned to Broadway in “Impressionism,” and Jane Fonda was back for the first time in 46 years to do “33 Variations.”
This spring, Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane are Morticia and Gomez in a musical version of “The Addams Family,” and Abigail Breslin makes her Broadway debut as Helen Keller in a revival of “The Miracle Worker”.
Not all recent efforts to bring stars to the Broadway stage have paid off. Neither “Exit the King” nor “33 Variations” recouped production costs. Meanwhile, Daniel Radcliffe’s turn in “Equus” was a surprising box office disappointment. Currently, the Jackman/Craig duo seems unbeatable, both critically and in terms of weekly receipts, and even Law’s production seems to be maintaining high attendance.
“It’s something that’s actually always been here, but it’s starting to happen with much more frequency lately, which is actually two-sided. People think that this is only driven by the producers, and they forget that it’s actually driven by the stars themselves,” Davenport said. “There’s no need for Denzel Washington to do [“Fences”] except for his own desire to. It goes to show you how powerful and important a Broadway credit is to a lot of people.”
Still, isn’t this collection of star power on Broadway part of an effort by producers to battle slowing ticket sales in the current economy? Davenport noted, “I do think there is a little bit to it because of the economic downturn. It’s certainly a way to mitigate the risk. Audiences…used to see maybe three to four shows, now they will see maybe one to two, and stars are one of the easiest ways to add value to a production.”
Considering the great financial risk accompanying a Broadway production and the spotty track record of recent star turns there, the question remains if bringing high-paid stars to a production is worth it.
“I think certainly [it is], for the right stars,” Davenport said. “There are stars like Hugh Jackman…. he could be starring in a play by a fourth grader and it would sell out. Something like that is worth it.”
Davenport notes that even the buzz generated by lesser well-known stars can be a substantial boon to a production, but adds, “The show has to come through. I think everyone was shocked that ‘Equus’ with Daniel Radcliffe didn’t turn into the monster hit they expected it to be. But what sells tickets is word of mouth, and it wasn’t there.”