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Kenny Leon’s ‘Mountaintop’ finishes Broadway run with a profit

By Howard Pousner
hpousner@ajc.com

There is a reason Atlanta director Kenny Leon has two plays on Broadway right now — that is, beyond the typically high regard for his work by producers and others in the theater industry and even critics.

Leon’s plays usually make money, as Broadway followers were reminded this week with the announcement that “The Mountaintop” has recouped its $3.1 million investment.

Katori Hall’s drama about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final night before his assassination is the fifth play Leon has helmed on the Great White Way, and the third (after “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Fences”) to make its money back.

That’s a better batting average than most: Only a third of Broadway’s straight plays have returned their investment in recent years.

“Hitting this kind of milestone during these economic times further demonstrates the absolute power, beauty and resilience of the human spirit,” Leon said in an email to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday. “Great theater continues to bind us, one to the other, and most of us will travel far and wide to see a good story told well.”

“Mountaintop” won an Olivier Award in London before transferring to Broadway, where Leon’s production opened to mostly positive notices in October. The star power of Samuel L. Jackson as King and Angela Bassett as a motel maid has helped drive the box office.

The show closes at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Sunday, after a run of 117 performances (not counting 24 previews).

“We are absolutely thrilled by the audience’s response to this inspirational new play,” “Mountaintop” producers Jean Doumanian and Sonia Friedman said in a statement this week.

Leon’s sixth Broadway play, “Stick Fly,” continues its open-ended run at the Cort Theatre, with tickets currently on sale through April 8. Lydia R. Diamond’s comedy-drama explores relationships among an extended well-to-do African-American clan on Martha’s Vineyard.

The only Leon-directed Broadway plays that did not recoup their investments were “Radio Golf” and “Gem of the Ocean.” The two August Wilson plays “generated money regionally,” Leon said, “but not on Broadway.”

Though nothing is confirmed yet, expect Leon to return to the Great White Way for the 2012-13 season. Among plays that have been discussed is “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” a musical featuring lyrics and music by the late Atlantan Tupac Shakur. It’s by Todd Kreidler, associate artistic director of Leon’s Atlanta-based troupe True Colors.

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