||ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
LACKAWANNA BLUES came to the attention of HBO through Santiago-Hudson’s longtime friend Halle Berry, along with Vincent Cirrincione and Shelby Stone, all of whom serve as executive producers. Santiago-Hudson says, “HBO is the only place I could think of that would give me the support and freedom that the play requires. The quality of what they do is unsurpassed and it’s also one of the few places on TV that lets African-Americans tell their stories.”
HBO Films president Colin Callender, a fan of Wolfe’s work as a director and producer, reunited Santiago-Hudson with Wolfe, his former muse, who originally helped bring “Lackawanna Blues” to the stage.
Like other great directors from the theater world, Wolfe was often approached with film offers, but had always resisted. “Theater fulfilled everything inside of me,” he says. Without committing to direct, Wolfe agreed to help Santiago-Hudson. “At that point, I became involved,” he says. “I think I reached the point in my life where I was hungry for something else and luckily for me, this came along.”
“George is extremely intelligent and has an incredible lust for life,” notes Santiago-Hudson. “He’s a visionary, a problem-solver and loves the huge mosaic of black people - the beauty, the wit, the depth, the pain, and the joy of his people. And that’s why he’s the first person I could trust my stories with.”
“In many respects,” says Wolfe, “many of these characters are so damaged that the only thing they have left of value is their stories, and they’re passing them on. To share your story with someone is a phenomenal gift - an honor. And Ruben honored them in the creation of the play.”
Santiago-Hudson and Wolfe agreed that the film script should not take the typical format of a Hollywood screenplay. The center of the piece was the relationship between Ruben Jr. and Nanny and the world around them, but it was vital to retain the play’s focus on storytelling. “I wanted to write the script in my own style and my own form,” says Santiago-Hudson, “and George gave me the freedom to have my own voice.”
The pair next turned their attention to finding an actress to embody Nanny, the heart and soul of the film. “Nanny is one of those people who, whenever they see a need, responds to it,” says Wolfe. “Brave and heroic people like that don’t view themselves that way. They’re just doing what they think they’re supposed to do.”
Wolfe auditioned a large and diverse group of women for the role, until S. Epatha Merkerson came in to audition. “When Epatha came in, that was it,” says Wolfe. “She’s incredibly strong, independent, smart, and very sexy. And she’s tough in a very good way. I wanted Nanny to be a full-bodied, complicated woman.” Adds Santiago-Hudson, “The integrity Epatha gave off, the depth, the beauty that she brought to the character, was amazingly reminiscent of the Nanny I knew.”
“There’s always someone who’s smart, can look ahead and see things, whether they have the education or not,” observes Merkerson. “They have a maternal instinct and common sense. And I think that’s where Nanny comes from, someone who can see a situation, assess it and act on it. My mother was like Nanny.”
To play Jr., the character based on Santiago-Hudson’s childhood, Wolfe didn’t have to look far. Eleven-year-old Marcus Carl Franklin was in his production of Tony Kushner’s “Caroline, or Change.” Everyone agreed that the talented young actor would be perfect for the role. Like Santiago-Hudson, Marcus was half Puerto Rican, and Ruben even felt Marcus resembled him as a child.
Having run the Public Theatre for 12 years, Wolfe had built up an abundant set of relationships with extraordinary actors. After reading the script, many Public Theatre veterans were excited to join the cast of LACKAWANNA BLUES, including Jimmy Smits (“Much Ado About Nothing”), Jeffrey Wright (“Angels in America”), Rosie Perez (“References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot”), Liev Schreiber (“Hamlet”), Mos Def (“Top Dog/Underdog”), Hill Harper (“Dogeaters”), Adina Porter (“The Venus”), Charlayne Woodard (“The Caucasian Chalk Circle”) and Kathleen Chalfont (“Angels in America”). The director also had the chance to work with a number of actors for the first time, including Carmen Ejogo, Macy Gray, Delroy Lindo, Henry Simmons, Louis Gossett Jr., Michael Kenneth Williams, Lou Myers and Barry Shabaka Henley.
Wolfe immediately took to the challenges of the new medium. “Ruben uses language like a painter, but on film you’re actually painting the picture,” Wolfe explains. “It was fun to translate my theatre skills - my obsession with acting, with movement and props, into the film. The characters’ sense of fashion was one of those fun details.”
One of the details is the way clothes are utilized in the film. Clothes were an essential part of the film. “Black folks, no matter what their lot was in life, come Friday they got dressed up,” says Santiago-Hudson. “People wore themselves,” says Wolfe. “When you don’t have power over your world, all you have is power over yourself. So those details matter so much.”
The film is fueled by two high-voltage celebrations - Nanny’s fish fry at the beginning and the “ ‘40s Dance” at Maxie’s Bar and Grill. Music, dance, food and unbridled sensuality all create a larger-than-life electricity. “The emotional beats of the story are real,” says Wolfe, “but these people have an exaggerated sense of themselves. Some of the main characters are just plain mad. And these huge emotional events that happen allow for large emotions and larger energies to take place. Things that are totally real but at the same time have a sense of ritual.”
Wolfe spent a great deal of time finding the right house for Nanny’s place. After endless scouting in Los Angeles, the production staff told him to shout if they drove by anything he liked. Just as they were about to turn onto a freeway, Wolfe screamed, “That’s the house! Stop!” Although it was on West Adams in L.A., it had the look of an east coast house. Looking inside, Wolfe found exactly what he was searching for. “It had all this wood and incredible warmth,” he says, “and it had an extraordinary sense of decay.”
Working with production designer Richard Hoover, Wolfe supervised every aspect of the transformation of the interior of the house: each color, wallpaper pattern, photo and perfume bottle. “Nanny’s house is a sort of decayed sacred space,” says Wolfe. All the interiors of the film, except for Maxie’s, were shot inside the house.
LACKAWANNA BLUES represents a reunion for Wolfe and Santiago-Hudson. Tony-winning actor Santiago-Hudson often reflects about the wonderful moments and hard lessons of his youth in Lackawanna, NY, particularly about the woman who raised him, Rachel “Nanny” Crosby. “Sometimes I just get nostalgic,” he says, “and I start telling stories and I never get enough of telling them.” One day, Santiago-Hudson told some of his tales to writer and director George C. Wolfe and some of his colleagues from the Public Theatre. After recounting endless stories, Wolfe said to Santiago-Hudson, “Stop talking to me and write them down.”
Wolfe set up Santiago-Hudson with dramaturge John Dias, who formatted the stories into a play. Santiago-Hudson would tell his stories into a tape recorder, discuss with Dias, work up a few stories, and bring them back to Wolfe. “He’d listen,” says Santiago-Hudson, “drop a few notes and walk away.” After a few months, Wolfe announced that “Lackawanna Blues” was ready to begin production.
To hold onto the flavor of stories remembered and told rather than reenacted, Santiago-Hudson created “Lackawanna Blues” as a one-man show. “I wanted to change characters without a single prop,” he explains, “and have music, singing, and dancing.” Santiago-Hudson sang blues and jazz (accompanied by guitarist Bill Sims Jr.), played the harmonica, and even did a few steps to suggest the old dances.
“There are frequently actors who decide to do their own material,” says Wolfe. “But often it’s the performance that elevates the writing to the next level. What made ‘Lackawanna Blues’ so exciting on stage is that the writing and the sense of character were as thrilling as the performer.”
“Lackawanna Blues” opened in April 2001 and quickly struck a chord with critics and audiences, running ten weeks and winning two Obie Awards. “Ruben is such a brilliant storyteller that the audience just surrendered,” says Wolfe. “There was an honesty and directness that had a deep effect on people.” Santiago-Hudson then toured with the play for a year and a half to numerous cities, including Washington, D.C. (where it won two Helen Hayes Awards), Connecticut (Theatre Award), San Francisco, New Haven and Princeton, among others.
LACKAWANNA BLUES is two stories, both structured like a life story: the biography of a man and the biography of a community. It begins with the birth of Junior, tracing his life through his education and growth in the world that nourished him, and ends with the Nanny’s terminal illness, symbolizing the end of that world.
“When we talk about the segregation years,” says Wolfe, “some think of them from the perspective of victimization, of Jim Crow laws, of dogs and hoses and the Klan. And not to minimize that, it was terrible. But people didn’t just stand around and sing ‘Go Down Moses.’ They built communities. And a whole culture sprang up from that.”
“There were cities all around the country - Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Gary, Indiana, and so on - with thriving segregated communities,” says Santiago-Hudson. “We were forced to have our own schools, banks, grocery stores, pharmacies. We had no other option. And when integration gave us another option, we took it - to the demise of our communities.”
In New York City, Ruben Santiago, Jr. [Hill Harper] is awakened by a phone call with unsettling news about the most important person in his life: Rachel “Nanny” Crosby [S. Epatha Merkerson]. Later, visiting the ailing 82-year-old woman in the hospital, Ruben Jr. implores her to fight for life - until a blast of music takes him into the past.
The scene: the main room of 32 Wasson Avenue, Lackawanna, NY, in 1956. These are prosperous times for Great Lakes cities, and Nanny’s Friday-night fish fry, “a piece of heaven on earth” for segregated blacks, is in full swing. Though Nanny is the center of attention, her younger husband Bill [Terrence Howard] is flirting with another woman, and a second love triangle involving the scatter-brained Pauline [Macy Gray], and her man, Jimmy Lee [Michael Kenneth Williams], is heating up.
In various corners of the house, colorful characters boogie to the jukebox, drink and eat, or play cards or craps. These revelers - drifters, alcoholics, ex-cons, misfits - are just a few of the people Nanny brought up from her Virginia hometown to help build a better life. Suddenly, Ruben Sr. [Jimmy Smits], an Hispanic neighbor, crashes the party in a panic after his wife Alean [Carmen Ejogo] goes into labor. Pausing only to keep Pauline from slicing up her rival, Nanny rushes to the Santiago apartment to be midwife. As Alean’s screams mix with those from Pauline and (in a parked car) the two-timing Bill, Ruben Santiago Jr. pops out into a chaotic world - and into Nanny’s nurturing arms.
By the time Ruben is two, his parents have split up, and Alean and Jr. [Marcus Carl Franklin] are temporarily staying in a room at Nanny’s while Alean works as a barmaid. One day, Ricky [Adina Porter], a lesbian tenant, discovers that Jr. has been left alone in his room while his mother is at work. Concerned for the boy’s welfare, Nanny convinces Alean to let her watch him as needed. Nanny, Ruben Sr., and Alean take turns with Jr., and the arrangement works, but not for long. After Alean is arrested for breaking into a store, Nanny bails her out, and a more permanent arrangement evolves. Nanny will take care of Jr. until he finishes school - or until Alean or Ruben Sr. prove that they can do better for him.
For a while, Alean sees Jr. every weekend, but eventually her “demons” return and she disappears. In the meantime, the boy soaks up life lessons from Nanny’s boarders and neighbors. There’s Otis McClanahan [Robert Bradley] a blind blues singer whose songs underscore some of the stories told in the film; the malaprop-prone alcoholic Ol’ Po’ Carl [Lou Myers], who talks of his days playing in the Negro Leagues; Numb-Finger Pete [Thomas Jefferson Byrd], an “intellectual” who lost most of his fingers to frostbite after a night of drinking; Sweet Tooth Sam [Saul Williams], shell-shocked from his years in Vietnam; Mr. Luscious [Delroy Lindo], who recounts to Jr. how he lost his left arm by defending a woman’s honor after being insulted by a white man; Freddie Cobbs [Ruben Santiago-Hudson], a WWII veteran in search of respect; and Lem Taylor [Louis Gossett Jr.], a one-legged castoff plucked out of a psychiatric hospital.
One night, Nanny and the gang head off to Maxie’s, a local club, kicking up their heels while the charismatic bandleader [Mos Def] sings “Caledonia” and “Destination Love.” With Bill nowhere in sight, Nanny’s old flame Dick Barrymore [Ernie Hudson] flirts with her, while Ricky makes eyes at Nanny’s fiery hairdresser friend Bertha [Rosie Perez]. Meanwhile, at home, reclusive tenant Small Paul [Jeffrey Wright] shows Jr. his scrapbook to educate him about racism, then explains how he killed his girlfriend and her lover in a jealous rage. Back at Maxie’s, the fun ends when Jimmy Lee and Pauline go at it (again) leaving both with neck abrasions. Nanny returns home, and lets Bill have it when he wanders in late, not buying his alibi that he fell asleep at his sister’s.
Next morning, Bill takes Jr. fishing - and Nanny later gets a collect phone call from the shivering boy, who’s been abandoned and must be retrieved. Apparently, when Bill and his mistress Miss Jadie [Charlayne Woodard] were “occupied” in the car, Jr. lost his clothes and Bill’s fishing gear while swimming, causing an outraged Bill to drive off. The incident sends Nanny into a rage, and she vows to “blow the back of your head off” if Bill mistreats the boy again. After cooling down, she explains to Jr. that though Bill acts like a fool, he loves Jr.
This becomes apparent when two white social workers, Ulysses Fold [Liev Schreiber] and Mrs. Carmichael [Kathleen Chalfant], visit the house to evaluate whether Jr. should continue to live with Nanny. After witnessing an inauspicious tirade by Freddie, the pair interrogates Nanny and Jr., but they are unceremoniously shown the door by Bill.
Other unforgettable tales unfold, including the story of how Laura [Julie Benz], a white mother, sought refuge with Nanny after her boxer husband Gerald [Henry Simmons] roughed her up. After standing up to the intimidating husband, Nanny protects Laura by driving her and her kids to Toronto, where she and Jr. are treated like royalty by Laura’s rich mother [Patricia Wettig]. After the moment of peace, Nanny is back in the mayhem of the house. Sweet Tooth Sam goes on a rampage, destroying everything in his path with a pool cue. Everyone runs for cover until Nanny pacifies him.
In a rare quiet moment, Jr. asks Nanny if she is afraid of death. Explaining that she’s not, Nanny tells Jr. how she’s always cared for others, and got into the rooming-house business after a white employer insulted her. She recounts how her only child, a three-year-old girl she had with her first husband, died of pneumonia. It was the hardest thing Nanny ever faced, but God ended up filling her life up with other wonderful people - especially Jr.
In the years that follow, Nanny overcomes breast cancer, though Bill is not so lucky - he dies of lung cancer. Jr.’s parents also die - Ruben Sr. during bypass surgery, Alean in a drive-by shooting. Nanny recovers from her latest ailment, returning home to a surprise party and an emotional tribute from her grateful tenants. Jr. leaves the party, facing a future where the structures and people of Lackawanna will fade away - but his memories won’t.
S. Epatha Merkerson (Rachel “Nanny” Crosby) is best known for her role as Lt. Anita Van Buren on the acclaimed hit drama “Law & Order,” and was recently seen in the feature film “Radio.” Merkerson has performed in numerous Broadway productions, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Piano Lesson,” for which she received Tony and Drama Desk nominations for Best Actress. She was a regular on the series “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” and was featured in “Mann and Machine” and “The Cosby Show” spin-off “Here and Now.” Merkerson has starred in numerous TV movies, including “A Mother’s Prayer,” “An Unexpected Life,” “A Girl Thing” and “Exiled,” based on the “Law & Order” series. Her other feature film credits include “Jersey Girl,” “The Rising Place,” “Random Hearts,” “Terminator II: Judgment Day,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Navy SEALS” and “Loose Cannons.”
Marcus Carl Franklin (Ruben Jr.), who is 11 years old, makes his film debut in LACKAWANNA BLUES. He recently starred in the Broadway and off-Broadway productions of “Caroline, or Change,” directed by George C. Wolfe. His TV appearances include the upcoming “The Water is Wide,” “Law and Order,” “Saturday Night Live” and “Dragon Tails.” Franklin began his career in local theater productions and TV commercials.
Mos Def (bandleader) was nominated for an Emmy® and Golden Globe for HBO’s “Something the Lord Made.” His feature film credits include “The Italian Job,” “Bamboozled,” “Monster’s Ball” and “Brown Sugar,” for which he received an NAACP Image Award nomination. He also starred with Jeffrey Wright in the Tony-nominated, Pulitzer Prize-winning play “TopDog/Underdog” on Broadway under the direction of George C. Wolfe. He received an Obie Award for the off-Broadway play “Fucking A.” Mos Def also hosts the acclaimed HBO series “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry.” His other TV credits include guest roles on “Spin City,” “NYPD Blue” and “Chappelle’s Show.” Mos Def can currently be seen in “Woodsman,” and is one of the stars of the upcoming “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
Carmen Ejogo (Alean) starred in HBO Films’ “Boycott” alongside Jeffrey Wright, for which she was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Her other credits include “Sally Hemings: An American Scandal,” Kenneth Branagh’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “Metro,” “The Avengers,” “Perfume” “What’s the Worst That Can Happen?,” “Absolute Beginners” and the miniseries “Colour Blind.”
Louis Gossett Jr. (Old Lem Taylor) received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® for “An Officer and a Gentleman,” a Golden Globe Award for HBO’s “The Josephine Baker Story,” and an Emmy® for the historic TV miniseries “Roots.” His other feature film credits include “Curse of the Starving Class,” “A Good Man in Africa” and “Diggstown.” Gossett starred in, as well as executive produced, “For Love of Olivia,” “The Color of Love: Jacey’s Story,” “Inspectors 2: A Shred of Evidence,” “In His Father’s Shoes,” “Run for the Dream: The Gail Devers Story” and “Inside.” His other TV credits include “Return to Lonesome Dove,” “Zooman,” “Father & Son: Dangerous Relations” and “Roots: The Gift.”
Macy Gray (Pauline) is best known for her Grammy Award-winning music, but has also appeared in such films as “Training Day,” “Scary Movie 3,” “Spider-Man” and “Gang of Roses.” Gray recorded songs for the films “Mona Lisa Smile,” “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and “Baby Boy,” as well as composing music for “Spider-Man,” “The Sweetest Thing” and “Miss Match.” Her other upcoming films include HBO’s untitled OutKast musical and “Domino.”
Hill Harper (Ruben Jr.) currently stars in “CSI: New York.” He received critical acclaim and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his performance as an HIV-positive inmate in the 2000 feature film “The Visit.” Harper recently co-starred on the TV series “The Handler”; his other TV credits include “Mama Flora’s Family,” “Live Shot” and “City of Angels,” for which he earned an NAACP Image Award nomination. He most recently completed the independent film “Love, Sex and Eating the Bones,” and “America Brown,” while his other feature films include “Loving Jezebel,” “The Nephew,” “The Skulls,” “In Too Deep,” “Beloved,” “He Got Game” and “Zooman.”
Terrence Howard (Bill Crosby) appeared in HBO’s “Boycott.” His feature film credits include “Ray,” “Biker Boyz,” “Hart’s War,” “Angel Eyes,” “Big Momma’s House,” “Dead Presidents,” “Butter,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and “The Best Man,” which earned him an Independent Spirit Award and an NAACP Image Award. Howard’s upcoming TV credits include “These Eyes are Watching God” and HBO’s untitled OutKast musical. He can also be seen in the upcoming feature films “Hustle & Flow,” “Crash,” “The Salon” and “Animal.”
Ernie Hudson (Dick Barrymore) was a regular on the acclaimed HBO series “Oz.” His feature film credits include the “Ghostbusters” hits, “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous,” “Sledge: The Story of Frank Sledge,” “Clifford’s Really Big Movie” and “Miss Congeniality.” His TV credits include “Walking Shadow,” “Town Without Christmas,” HBO’s “The Cherokee Kid,” “Everwood,” “Dinner for Five,” “Without a Trace” and “Touched by an Angel.”
Delroy Lindo (Mr. Lucious) has appeared in such Spike Lee films as “Malcolm X,” for which he received an NAACP Image Award nomination, “Clockers” and “Crooklyn.” Among his other film credits are “Get Shorty,” “The Cider House Rules” and “Gone in 60 Seconds.” For TV, he appeared in the movies “Profoundly Normal,” “Strange Justice,” “Glory and Honor” and HBO’s “Soul of the Game” and “First Time Felon.” In addition to a critically acclaimed Broadway performance in August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” Lindo conceived, directed and produced a series of documentary interviews, including “Delroy Lindo on Spike Lee,” “Delroy Lindo in Conversations with Charles Burnett” and “Delroy Lindo and Joan Chen: A Conversation.” He will next be seen in the film “Wondrous Oblivion.”
Rosie Perez (Bertha) was nominated for an Academy Award® and a Golden Globe for Peter Weir’s “Fearless.” She also executive produced and appeared in the HBO original presentations “Rosie Perez Presents Society’s Ride” and “Subway Stories.” Perez’ other film credits include “Human Nature,” “Riding in Cars with Boys,” “The Road to El Dorado,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” “Untamed Heart,” “It Could Happen to You,” “Brother’s Kiss,” “King of the Jungle,” “Do the Right Thing” and “The 24-Hour Woman,” which she also produced. Perez starred made her Broadway debut in Terence McNally’s “Frankie & Johnnie in the Clair de Lune”; her other stage credits include “The Vagina Monologues,” “References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She recently starred on Broadway in “Reckless.”
Liev Schreiber (Ulysses Fold) starred as Orson Welles in HBO’s “RKO 281,” for which he was nominated for an Emmy® and a Golden Globe. His other film credits include “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Sum of All Fears,” “Kate & Leopold,” “Spring Forward,” “Hurricane,” “A Walk on the Moon,” “Twilight” and “Jakob the Liar.” Schreiber’s TV credits include “Buffalo Girls,” “The Sunshine Boys,” and upcoming “Spinning Boris.” His stage credits include “Hamlet,” “Othello,” “Macbeth,” “The Tempest” and “Cymbeline,” for which he won an Obie.
Henry Simmons (Jesse) currently stars as Det. Baldwin Jones on the hit drama series “NYPD Blue.” Among his other TV credits are “Spartacus,” “Another World,” “New York Undercover,” “Swift Justice” and “Saturday Night Live.” His stage credits include “Sure,” which he also produced, “Boys in the Basement” and LaMaMa Theater Company’s “Geranos.” Simmons has appeared in the feature films “Taxi,” “Above the Rim,” “Let It Snow” and “A Gentleman’s Game. ” His upcoming films include “Are We There Yet?” and “Gentlemen’s Fame.”
Jimmy Smits (Ruben Sr.) received a Golden Globe, a Humanitas Award and five Emmy® nominations for his critically-acclaimed portrayal of Bobby Simone on “NYPD Blue.” He is now starring on “The West Wing.” Smits also garnered an Emmy® for “L.A. Law.” He recently appeared on Broadway in Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Anna in the Tropics.” His feature film credits include “Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones,” “Price of Glory” and “Bless the Child,” and he will return for “Star Wars: Episode III.”
Patricia Wettig (Laura’s mom) has appeared in such TV shows as “Alias,” “Boomtown,” “Breaking News,” “The Practice,” “L.A. Doctors,” “thirtysomething” and “St. Elsewhere.” Her film credits include “Dancer, Texas - Pop. 81,” “Bongwater” and “City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold.”
Michael Kenneth Williams (Jimmy Lee) made his feature film debut in “Bullet,” starring Tupac Shakur, going on to appear in Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead” and the independent films “Broken Even” and “Mug Shot.” A regular on the acclaimed HBO series “The Wire,” he has also made multiple appearances on the series “Law & Order,” “Third Watch” and HBO’s “The Sopranos.”
Jeffrey Wright (Small Paul) received a Golden Globe Award for his performance as Belize in HBO’s “Angels in America,” also receiving a Tony Award for the same role in the Broadway production, directed by George C. Wolfe. He also garnered critical acclaim in “Topdog/Underdog,” for which he was nominated for a Tony Award, and “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk,” both directed by Wolfe. Wright’s film credits include “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Ali,” “Shaft,” “Ride with the Devil,” “Critical Care,” “Jumpin’ at the Boneyard,” “Faithful,” “Beyond Belief” and “Basquiat,” which earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his debut performance in the title role. Wright was honored with an AFI Award for best actor for his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. in HBO’s “Boycott.”
Charlayne Woodard’s (Miss Jadie) TV credits include “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “The Division,” “Boomtown,” “Chicago Hope,” “D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear” and “The Wedding.” Among her films are “Sunshine State,” “Unbreakable” and “Million Dollar Hotel.”
Director George C. Wolfe makes his feature directorial debut with LACKAWANNA BLUES, following his extensive success as a leading force in the renaissance of New York Theater. His work as a writer and director has been seen on Broadway, off-Broadway and on tour throughout the country. Wolfe recently directed “Caroline, or Change,” written by Tony Kushner and “The Wild Party.” Additional plays under his direction that have transferred to Broadway from The Public Theater include “Harlem Song,” “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” Suzan-Lori Parks’ 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Topdog/Underdog,” starring Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright, Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” which received four Drama Desk nominations, and “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk,” with Savion Glover, which earned four Tony Awards.
Wolfe made his Broadway directing and writing debut in “Jelly’s Last Jam,” with Ruben Santiago-Hudson, which garnered three Tony Awards and six Drama Desk Awards. He went on to direct Tony Kushner’s epic two-part drama “Angels in America,” earning a Tony Award for “Millennium Approaches,” and a Tony nomination for “Perestroika.” His other credits include Anna Deaveare Smith’s “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” and “Blade to the Heat.” He is the author of “The Colored Museum” and “Spunk,” which was based on the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, and wrote the books for “The Wild Party” and “Jelly’s Last Jam.” His additional directing credits include “Harlem Song,” created for the Apollo Theatre, “Amistad,” “Macbeth,” “Caucasian Chalk Circle” and “Radiant Baby.” Wolfe was declared a “Living Landmark” by the New York City Landmark Conservancy and from 1992 to 2004 was the producer of The Public Theater.
Executive producer Halle Berry won the Best Actress Academy Award® for “Monster’s Ball,” opposite Billy Bob Thornton; she also received a SAG Award and was named Best Actress by the National Board of Review. Berry received an Emmy®, Golden Globe, SAG and NAACP Image Award for the title role of HBO’s “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,” which she also executive produced. Her other film credits include “Catwoman,” “Gothika,” “Die Another Day,” “X2,” “X-Men,” “Swordfish,” “Losing Isaiah,” “Executive Decision,” “Strictly Business” and “Bulworth.” Berry made her feature film debut in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever.” Her TV credits include “Oprah Winfrey Presents the Wedding,” Alex Haley’s miniseries “Queen,” for which earned her first NAACP Image Award, and “Solomon and Sheba,” opposite Jimmy Smits.
Executive producer Vincent Cirrincione also executive produced HBO’s “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,” along with Halle Berry and Joshua Maurer. He also produced the feature film “The Last Producer.”
Writer and executive producer Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who is also featured in the ensemble cast of LACKAWANNA BLUES as Freddie Cobbs, is an accomplished actor, as well as writer, who has worked in theatre, film and TV. He received a Tony Award for his performance in August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” and an Obie for his autobiographical one-man show “Lackawanna Blues,” for which he also received an NAACP Image Award nomination. Santiago-Hudson made his Broadway debut as Buddy Bolden opposite Gregory Hines in “Jelly’s Last Jam,” directed by George C. Wolfe. His feature film credits include “Domestic Disturbance,” “Devil’s Advocate,” “Shaft” and “Blown Away,” while his TV credits include “Hunt for the Unicorn Killer,” “American Tragedy,” “The Red Sneakers,” “Rear Window,” “Michael Hayes” and “American Tragedy.” Santiago-Hudson can be seen in the upcoming TV miniseries “Their Eyes Are Watching God” and “Dr. Percy Julian.” He is currently performing on Broadway in August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” with Phylicia Rashad.
Executive producer Shelby Stone produced such HBO Films as the award-winning “Boycott,” “Lumumba” and “The Middle Passage,” as well as the Emmy®-nominated, multiple award-winning HBO public-service spots “Peace: Live in It or Rest in It.” Stone also produced Tamara Davis’ acclaimed “Skipped Parts.” Stone began her career as an independent film executive working in marketing and acquisitions before launching her own production company with Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule production “DROP Squad.”
Producer Nellie Nugiel’s HBO credits include “61*,” “In the Gloaming” and “Strapped.” Her other credits include “Bickford Shmeckler’s Cool Ideas,” “Chasing Papi,” “People I Know,” HBO’s “Women and Men 2: In Love There Are No Rules” and “The Pallbearer.” Nugiel served as associate producer on “Come See the Paradise,” “Crossing Delancey,” “The House on Carroll Street” and “Death of a Salesman.” Nugiel was a production executive at HBO and supervised “If These Walls Could Talk 2,” “When Trumpets Fade,” “Path to Paradise,” and “Subway Stories.” She also headed U.S. production for HandMade Films.
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