In “A Soldier’s Play,” Captain Richard Davenport isn’t meant to sing. But erstwhile you formed legendary baritone Norm Lewis successful nan role, you return advantage of his talents. Lewis tin beryllium seen successful nan nationalist touring production, presently playing astatine L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre — and it’s acknowledgment to head Kenny Leon that audiences get to perceive Davenport singing astatine definite points it nan show.
Written by Charles Fuller, “A Soldier’s Play” is group connected an Army guidelines successful 1944, erstwhile nan subject is still segregated. Captain Davenport, a uncommon Black officer, is sent to analyse nan shooting of Sergeant Vernon Waters. Though Black himself, Waters despises and persecutes Black men who he feels perpetuate old-fashioned stereotypes.
“A Soldier’s Play” debuted Off-Broadway successful 1981 by nan Negro Ensemble Company successful a accumulation that starred Denzel Washington, David Alan Grier, Samuel L. Jackson and Adolph Caesar. It won nan 1982 Pulitzer Prize for play and spawned a movie version, “A Soldier’s Story,” successful 1984. The play had galore notable revivals complete nan years but only made its Broadway debut successful 2020, pinch Leon directing a formed that included Blair Underwood and Grier, now playing nan domiciled of Waters — a capacity that won nan character a Tony Award for champion featured character successful a play.
A Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award nominee, Lewis has a agelong history of tackling iconic roles — he’s appeared connected Broadway arsenic Javert successful “Les Misérables,” King Triton successful “The Little Mermaid” and successful “The Phantom of nan Opera,” becoming nan first African American character to play nan title domiciled successful nan Broadway production. “A Soldier’s Play” is only his 2nd consecutive play, pursuing his move successful 2021’s “Chicken & Biscuits.”
California residents tin besides drawback Lewis connected June 12 astatine nan Catalina Jazz Club and astatine nan Hollywood Bowl connected July 30 arsenic portion of “Everybody Rise! A Sondheim Celebration.” In New York he will look astatine 92NY’s Midsummer MusicFest’s “An Evening pinch Norm Lewis” connected July 11. And successful August, he will reprise his domiciled of nan Phantom successful a performance type of nan “Phantom of nan Opera” philharmonic sequel “Love Never Dies” successful London’s West End.
Variety caught up pinch Lewis successful his uncommon downtime.
I’m truthful happy Davenport sings successful this production, arsenic do nan soldiers. How did this travel to be?
That was Kenny’s idea. He decided to adhd immoderate philharmonic elements to nan show to thief pinch nan transitions. He has nan formed singing what they telephone activity songs — songs men would singing together, peculiarly successful jail. The thought was to [show that] these men are successful jailhouse moreover though they’re connected an service base. They’re being trained to fight, conscionable doing soiled work.
Now, arsenic acold arsenic maine singing — he wanted to usage our assets. When Blair Underwood did it connected Broadway — Blair is simply a activity symbol, you know? So erstwhile they were successful rehearsal, Kenny would go, “Hey, tin you unbutton 1 much button?” By nan clip nan show opened, he was shirtless. In summation to his acting ability, that’s portion of his talent. So Kenny was like, “Why don’t we springiness group what they want?” So there’s a snippet of maine singing. We liked nan thought that possibly he was a disappointment vocalist that happens to beryllium successful nan army.
Though it premiered successful 1981, “A Soldier’s Play” feels much timely than ever. I’m funny to cognize what your narration is pinch nan show — had you seen aliases publication it before?
I ne'er saw nan play, unfortunately, but I saw nan movie backmost successful nan mid-’80s. I retrieve it being thing that changed nan scope of what I knew astir history, particularly Black men and nan 1940s. The movie was astonishing — and that cast! Denzel Washington, David Alan Grier, Robert Townsend. And nan feline who I ever opportunity was Denzel earlier Denzel, Howard Rollins.
Though it was written and group truthful agelong ago, it feels timelier than ever.
We talked astir that a lot. Charles Fuller wrote it during nan precocious ’70s aliases early ’80s but it was group successful nan 1940s. Yet it’s still truthful prevalent during this time. Without giving excessively overmuch away, there’s a batch of scenarios that reflector what’s happening successful 2023 today. It’s a execution enigma but it’s shrouded successful this business of racism of self-hatred. Charles Fuller crafted a beautiful show. I conjecture that’s why it won nan Pulitzer.
What are immoderate of nan challenges of doing a play — peculiarly this 1 — versus a musical?
I’m utilizing nan aforesaid muscles and nan volition is nan aforesaid but I conscionable don’t burst into song. And I person 3 awesome monologues — this is nan astir I’ve ever had to opportunity successful a show. And I want to respect Charles Fuller’s words and opportunity them correctly and pinch awesome intention. And conscionable to beryllium true.
You’re going to reprise nan domiciled of nan Phantom astatine a performance capacity of “Love Never Dies.” What’s it for illustration to get to revisit that role?
It’s awesome because I had coveted nan portion for truthful long. I saw nan original backmost successful 1994 and said, “I person to beryllium successful this show somehow.” And 20 years later, I sewage to do it. So dreams tin travel true. Also, you can’t opportunity nary to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.
What do you deliberation is nan enduring entreaty of nan Phantom? People are conscionable fascinated by him.
I deliberation portion of nan entreaty is he feels for illustration an outsider. And we tin each consciousness that way. He’s ever trying to make judge his disguise is connected correctly for group to judge him successful nan existent world and we each do that metaphorically aliases literally. I deliberation group spot themselves successful this guy, arsenic tragic arsenic he is.
Minus nan murdering, hopefully.
Right, exactly. And I’m judge truthful galore group subordinate to this thought of a emotion that has slipped distant successful our lives.
Since we’re discussing past roles, person you been capable to spot “The Little Mermaid” movie wherever Javier Bardem is playing Triton?
No, I really want to! I’m truthful excited because it looks awesome and that formed is amazing. I mean, Javier Bardem? I can’t hold to spot what his mentation is. I retrieve seeing “Aquaman” and reasoning if they ever did “The Little Mermaid,” this is really it could work. And I’m judge it looks moreover amended now, pinch exertion having advanced.
Since you person played truthful galore parts, what is it group astir admit you from? Is it “Scandal” aliases thing connected stage?
I get “Scandal” a lot, of course. And there’s a faction that knows maine from my Broadway career. But for nan astir portion group will say, “Oh, you look acquainted to me…” Someone came up to maine and said, “Has anyone ever told you that you look for illustration Norm Lewis?” I was like, “Yeah, I get that each nan time.”
“A Soldier’s Play” continues astatine nan Ahmanson Theatre done June 25. For tickets and accusation visit: https://www.centertheatregroup.org/tickets/ahmanson-theatre/2022/a-soldiers-play/