Saturday, August 6, 2011

I Can't Wait to Get to "The Mountaintop" - Part I

I love the irony of the scene in the film Lady Sings the Blues where Diana Ross playing Billie Holiday is incredulous that she has to leave Harlem and tour all over just so that she can perform right in her own backyard.

This is sort of how I feel about Katori Hall's The Mountaintop. Inspired by her mother not being able to see what would be Dr. Martin Luther King's final speech, Katori Hall, a young playwright from Memphis, wrote The Mountaintop as a tribute - as an opportunity for her mother to meet and speak to Dr. King in 1968. According to an NPR interview, she sent the play to various producers and was pretty much rejected. How dare she push boundaries and humanize such a hero.

The play would eventually be produced outside the US - in the UK.  First the play performed in a small unsubsidized 65 seat theater and then the West End. In a surprise upset, it would beat out the likes of Jerusalem for an Olivier award.

Now, The Mountaintop is coming to Broadway next month - with two of the hottest African-American stars from Hollywood. I guess that's what it takes sometimes to play in your own backyard.

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