It has been ten years since playwright and screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks made her Broadway debut with Topdog/Uderdog, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Parks also received a Tony Award nomination for her play about two African American brothers, starring Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def. Now Parks is back on Broadway this season with her reinterpretation of The Gershwinsā Porgy and Bess, a new musical starring four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald as Bess. A McArthur Foundation āGeniusā Grant recipient, Parksā other works include the plays Venus, 365 Days/365 Plays, and The Book of Grace, as well as the screenplays Their Eyes Were Watching God and Girl 6. Her Ray Charles musical, Unchain My Heart, is scheduled to premiere on Broadway next year.
BlackEnterprise.com talked to Parks about her return to the Great White Way and her adaptation of George and Ira Gershwinās classic folk opera Porgy and Bess into a Broadway musical.
Blackenterprise.com: What does it feel like coming to Broadway now compared to your debut with Topdog/Underdog nearly a decade ago?
Parks: Itās definitely not a ābeen there done thatā feeling. There is something about being on Broadway that feels new. It is only my second time. Itās a different show. Itās a musical. I wrote Topdog/Underdog. I am the book adapter on Porgy and Bess. It didnāt spring fully formed out of my own head. Topdog was a two-person show. But this musical is an enormous enterprise. Topdog was groundbreaking in a lot of ways. And I have to say so is this show. So, I feel that I am breaking ground again. Iām blazing another trail.
How did you get involved with this production, what drew you to the project?
The producers sought me out. Diane Paulus (the showās director) called me up and said I am doing a revival of Porgy and Bess. Would you like to work on the adaptation of the book? I said how many writers are you thinking of. She said just you. And I said okay; Iāll do it. Thereās the novel Porgy, thereās the play called Porgy, and of course, thereās the brilliant opera Porgy and Bess. Diane sent me the libretto and the score, and I fell in love with it. With the musical I get to go back and pull something thatās a classic from 75 years ago and bring it to audiences of today. It wasnāt daunting for me. As the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, after you do that you can take on anything. I had James Baldwin as my creative writing teacher back in the day (at Mount Holyoke College). Iāve had the best training.