Denzel Washington Readies for Broadway Return in 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Bill Phelps
Denzel Washington

UPDATED: The Oscar winner will star alongside Diahann Carroll, Anika Noni Rose and Sophie Okonedo in the revival of Lorraine Hansberry's landmark drama.

NEW YORK – Official confirmation has been a long time coming, but with Denzel Washington discussing his return to Broadway on the interview circuit for 2 Guns, theater insiders are gearing up for another box office powerhouse in the spring.

Washington is set to star as Walter Lee Younger in a revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark 1959 drama A Raisin in the Sun, about a black American family’s bid to emerge from poverty on Chicago’s South Side and carve out a better life for themselves.

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“We start previews in March,” said Washington on the red carpet at Monday’s New York premiere of his latest feature, 2 Guns. “I’m trying to keep up with my wife. My wife has been doing a lot more theater than me.”

Adding further prestige to the production, Diahann Carroll will return to Broadway after a 30-year absence to co-star as family matriarch Lena Younger. The beloved stage, screen and TV vet last appeared on the Great White Way in the 1982 play Agnes of God. She won a Tony Award for lead actress in a musical in 1962 with No Strings.

The Raisin revival reunites Washington with producer Scott Rudin and director Kenny Leon, who staged the hit 2010 production of August Wilson’s Fences that won the Tony for best play revival, as well as lead actor for Washington and lead actress for Viola Davis.

Also on board for Raisin are Tony winner Anika Noni Rose (Caroline, or Change) and British actress Sophie Okonedo, an Oscar nominee for Hotel Rwanda, making her Broadway debut. The ensemble cast for the 14-week limited engagement also features Stephen Tyrone WilliamsJason Dirden and Stephen McKinley Henderson, another alumnus of Leon’s Fences production.

Rumors of the revival had been circulating for months before an official announcement was made this week. The play will follow Rudin’s fall production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal into the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, beginning preview performances March 8 for an April 3 opening.

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Starting previews on Oct. 1 for an Oct. 27 opening, the Pinter play is being directed by Mike Nichols and stars Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Rafe Spall. With more than two months still to go before the start of performances, it is already one of the strongest-selling play productions of recent years, with an advance reportedly exceeding $6.5 million.

The positioning of Betrayal and A Raisin in the Sun back to back gives Rudin a likely fall-spring double whammy on Broadway in the same theater where his Tony-winning production of Death of a Salesman, directed by Nichols and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield, was a smash in 2012.

The Barrymore has a historic association with Hansberry's drama, the first play by an African American woman to be presented on Broadway. The theater was home to the original 1959 production that starred Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Claudia McNeil, all of whom reprised their roles in the 1961 movie.

Leon made his Broadway directing debut on the play's last revival in 2004. That commercially successful production starred Sean Combs as Walter, with Audra McDonald, Phylicia Rashad and Sanaa Lathan. Both McDonald and Rashad won Tonys for their roles. Leon also directed the same lead cast members in a 2008 television adaptation of the play for ABC, which was nominated for three Emmys.

In addition to Fences, Washington proved a major box office draw in a 2005 staging of Julius Caesar, despite tepid reviews for the production overall. Alongside Hugh Jackman, Tom Hanks and a small handful of others, he is one of an elite group of actors considered surefire bankable names on Broadway.