Stage: Jennifer Holliday returns to Broadway; free theater brings communities together

When Jennifer Holliday told us she wasn’t going, she really meant it. The Grammy-winning Broadway star will return to the stage next month in an iconic Broadway role, and she’s not the only star to return. Elsewhere on Broadway, theater company Public Works has created two free Shakespearean productions this month for all communities to enjoy; a new theater in West End was founded to showcase South Asian arts; and the Broadway box office is dominated by a few specific shows (take a guess at what). For these stories and more, read on:

New roles for returning stars: Jennifer Holliday will return to the stage in John Doyle’s Tony Award winning The Color Purple. She will assume the role of Shug Avery on October 4, taking over for Heather Headley. The infamous musical, which was revived in 2015, follows the story of African Americans living in southern America in the 1920s. Holliday is no stranger to the stage and screen, best known for her role in Dreamgirls, in which she won a Grammy Award for her song And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going. Holliday will join cast members Cynthia Erivo, Danielle Brooks, Kyle Scatliffe, Isaiah Johnson and Joaquina Kalukango on stage.

Todrick Hall better lace up his boots. The returning Broadway star is tying up the lead role in Tony winner Kinky Boots, a musical about a struggling shoe factory that starts producing fashionable boots for drag queens to reinvigorate their business. Hall will play Lola, a drag queen who leads the boot production and struggles to gain acceptance from her father. Hall will fill Billy Porter's shoes, who played Lola since the show’s opening in 2012. Hall has previously appeared on Broadway in The Color Purple, and competed on American Idol’s ninth season. His first show is November 1.

Gbolahan Obisesan and Ronke Adekoluejo will star in the upcoming play The Mountaintop at the Young Vic theater in London. The revival production, originally penned by Katori Hall, will play October 7-29. The play is a fictional recounting of Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal life, and a look at how his preaching impacted his family and relationships. Obisesan will play MLK Jr. and Adekoluejo will play his hotel maid, Camae. Obisesan previously appeared in West End’s Concrete Jungle and Adekoluejo in Pride and Prejudice.

Free to the public: Theater company Public Works is dedicated to bringing free theater performances to diverse communities locally and nationally, creating two new Shakespearean productions within a month. The community partnership encourages members of all communities to work together to create and/or enjoy musical productions. Free performances for its musical adaption of Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night ran for four nights at the Delacorte Theater in New York. The production starred Jose Llana and Tony Award winner Nikki M. James, as well as over 200 members of the community. Kwane Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub directed the production, which ran September 2-5.

Public Works also launched its own production of Hamlet on August 26. The free performance is touring New York City’s five boroughs for three weeks, through September 17. The show is directed by Patricia McGregor and features Olivier Award winner Chukwudi Iwuji in the titular role. Iwuji previously portrayed Edgar in King Lear and Enobarbus in Anthony and Cleopatra in two previous Public Works shows. The free tour is a way to bring art to multiple communities within the city.

New theater showcases South Asian arts: London’s first-ever Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan opened the Tara Theatre in south London to showcase South Asian arts. The theater will serve as the new home for Tara Arts, one of the oldest multicultural theater companies in Britain. Founded in 1977 by now-theater director Jatinder Verma, the theater is “a realization of a lifelong dream.” The building features a 100-seat auditorium, as well as a rehearsal studio, an outdoor patio garden and more. “This new space embodies all that is great about London, with diversity and creativity built into the very fabric of this building,” Khan said. The theater plans to stage seventy events to honor the seventieth anniversary of India and Pakistan’s independence next year.

Upcoming productions: In Transit is on its way to the Big Apple. The musical will arrive December 11 featuring a script written by Frozen scribe Kristen-Anderson Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth. The a capella show follows eleven New York City residents navigating their way through the labyrinthine city. The diverse ensemble cast features American Idol runner-up Justin Guarini, Broadway vets Telly Leung, Moya Angela, James Snyder, David Abeles, Erin Mackey, Margo Seibert, Nicholas Ward and Mariand Torres, and also features newcomers Steven Cantor and Gerianne Perez.

The Kite Runner, a stage production based off Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel, will make a run for West End. Set in Afghanistan, the story follows the lifelong relationship between two boys in different social classes who are best friends until a terrible incident tears them apart. Starring Ben Turner, the production premiered on San Francisco stages in 2009 before hopping overseas to Europe in 2013. Its curtains in West End will open in December.

Photos were released for West End’s production Counting Stars. Penned by Atiha Sen Gupta, the play follows two Nigerian immigrants working as toilet attendants at a nightclub as their first anniversary approaches. Estella Daniels (Sinbad) and Lanre Malaolu (Blind Faith) star in the production directed by Pooja Ghai. The play opened September 1 and will run until the 17.

Broadway box office: Who would have thought a Founding Father, a lion, and a common street thief would ever have anything in common? Hamilton, The Lion King and Aladdin are, unsurprisingly, Broadway’s current reigning box office champions. On the week of August 28, Hamilton lead the pack of 25 current Broadway plays with just over $2 million at the box office. The Lion King isn’t that far behind with approximately $1.93 million, and Aladdin trails a distant third with approximately $1.47 million. The three plays (with the support of a fourth-place Wicked) contributed greatly to the week’s $21.5 million total gross that week, a lackluster sum for this time of year. Despite recent casting changes for Hamilton, the historical musical is still trucking along in the lead.