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Leslie Odom Jr. plans return to Broadway in ‘Purlie Victorious’

Feb. 1, 2023 Updated Thu., Feb. 2, 2023 at 4:08 p.m.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. star in a filmed version of the original Broadway production of “Hamilton” on Disney+.  (Disney+)
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. star in a filmed version of the original Broadway production of “Hamilton” on Disney+. (Disney+)
By Michael Paulson New York Times

NEW YORK – Leslie Odom Jr., who won a Tony Award for his breakout performance as Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” plans to return to Broadway this summer to star in, and coproduce, a revival of a 1961 comedy about a preacher trying to acquire a church in his hometown while challenging a local segregationist.

The play, “Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch,” was written by Ossie Davis, the actor and civil rights activist, who also starred in the original Broadway production alongside his wife and frequent collaborator, Ruby Dee. (The original cast also featured Alan Alda.) The play was quickly adapted into a movie, called “Gone Are the Days!,” and then into a musical, simply titled “Purlie.”

The revival will be directed by Kenny Leon, who has had a lot on his plate lately: He directed this season’s Broadway runs of “Topdog/Underdog” and “Ohio State Murders,” and is directing an off-Broadway production of “King James” (about LeBron James fandom) this spring and “Hamlet” at Free Shakespeare in the Park this summer.

“Purlie Victorious” is a satire of Southern stereotypes, and both Leon and Odom said they believe it will resonate with contemporary audiences. “It explores the truth in a way that we know and we can receive it,” Leon said. “To me, when I read this play, I don’t feel paralyzed, I feel joyous, and I say, ‘What can I do to make our country better?’ ”

Odom, who gave his daughter the middle name Ruby after Ruby Dee, said he has been interested in the play for some time. “First and foremost, we want to make a kick-ass, entertaining, joyful revival production of this great play,” he said. “We want to make a seminal production of ‘Purlie Victorious,’ this thing that hasn’t been seen on Broadway for decades and that was so important to Mr. Davis.”

In the years since “Hamilton,” Odom has had a thriving film and television career, with significant roles in “One Night in Miami” and “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”; a guest starring role in “Abbott Elementary”; and is now in Atlanta filming a sequel to “The Exorcist.” Before committing to “Purlie Victorious,” which will be his first professional stage play, Odom said he test-drove the material, to reassure himself that it would still work, and that he felt comfortable in the role.

“We did a small private reading just to begin the exploration, and what we found is that, absolutely, it holds up,” he said in a telephone interview. “Mr. Davis left us a road map to all the moments of magic that I’m looking for in this play, and it really is a matter of us committing this text to memory and letting it have its way with us.”

The revival’s lead producer is Jeffrey Richards. The production said in a statement that the revival would begin performances “in late summer 2023” at an unspecified Broadway theater.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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