Kenny Leon – Theatre Director
Kenny Leon is an American director notable for his work on Broadway and in regional theater. Robert Simonson of Playbill described Leon as “arguably Broadway’s leading African-American director.” In 2014, he won the Tony Award for Best Director of a Play for A Raisin in the Sun.
Career and Works
He gained prominence in 1988, when he became one of the few African Americans to head a notable nonprofit theater company as the artistic director of Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre Company. During Leon’s tenure, the company staged premieres of Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky, Alfred Uhry’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo, and Elton John and Tim Rice’s musical Aida, which went on to Broadway. The Alliance’s endowment also rose from $1 to $5 million during his time there.
Leon resigned from the Alliance in 2000 to take on other projects. These included being the co-founder and artistic director of True Colors Theater Company, a group based in both Atlanta and Washington, D.C. He also took his talents to Broadway. In the spring of 2004 he directed a revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald in his Broadway debut. At the end of that year, he directed the Broadway premiere of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. In spring 2007, he directed August Wilson’s Radio Golf. All three plays were nominated for Tony awards, and Leon was a Drama Desk Award nominee for A Raisin in the Sun. He also directed the television version of A Raisin in the Sun, which aired on ABC in February 2008. He was nominated for a Tony Award in 2010 for Best Director for his work on August Wilson’s Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, earning them both nominations and wins for Best Performance for Male and Female in a Play.
In November 2010, Leon directed Phylicia Rashad in the world premiere stage play Every Tongue Confess written by Marcus Gardley, which ran at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
Leon has also directed plays at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the Huntington Theater Company in Boston, the New York Shakespeare Festival, and the Goodman Theater in Chicago among many others.
In January 2012, he completed a Lifetime Original Television remake of Steel Magnolias. Other projects includes the world premier of a staged adaptation of the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at the Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company; and a musical inspired by the work of rapper Tupac Shakur.
In 2014, he directed the Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun starring Denzel Washington and LaTanya Richardson Jackson and the Broadway premiere of the musical Holler If Ya Hear Me, featuring the discography of Tupac Shakur. Leon won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for his work on A Raisin in the Sun. That same year Mr. Leon directed NPR Presents Water±, written by award-winning NPR Science Correspondent Christopher Joyce, and award-winning theater writers Arthur Yorinks and Carl Hancock Rux with an original sound score by violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR). The show toured nationally, co-hosted by NPR’s Michele Norris and WWNO’s Eve Troeh and featuring Tony Award-winner Anika Noni Rose (Caroline, or Change); Tony Award-nominee Michele Shay (August Wilson’s Seven Guitars); Jason Dirden (Tony Award-winning production A Raisin in the Sun); and Lucas Caleb Rooney (Boardwalk Empire).
In 2015, Leon directed the live musicalThe Wiz for NBC. Cirque du Soleil is partnering on the production with plans to bring the show to Broadway. He is slated to direct both the television production and Broadway revival. In 2016, Leon once again partnered with NBC for “Hairspray: Live!”, starring Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Kristin Chenoweth, and Harvey Fierstein.
Leon participated in the federally funded TRIO Upward Bound college-prep program while in high school. He is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University. In addition to his directing experience, he has extensive acting experience on stage and in television and film. He made an appearance in the Hollywood Black Film Festival winner Big Ain’t Bad, playing the role of Thomas Jordan, the mayor of Atlanta. In 2004, People named him one of the “50 Most Beautiful People” of the year. In 2007, he was a recipient of the 2007 Georgia Arts and Entertainment Legacy Award for his contributions to Georgia’s cultural legacy.
Leon was awarded the 2016-2017 “Mr. Abbott” Award for outstanding artistry and creativity which is presented by the Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC) Foundation, recognition for his over 40-year career. In October 2017, Leon was the recipient the Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities for the State of Georgia.
He currently holds the Denzel Washington Endowed Chair in Theatre at Fordham University, previously held by Joe Morton and Phylicia Rashad
His memoir, Take You Wherever You Go, was released in June, 2018, by Grand Central Publishing. The title derives advice he received from his grandmother, Mamie Wilson.
- 1991 Driving Miss Daisy
- 1991 Spirit of Atlanta
- 1991 Miss Evers’ Boys
- 1992 So Long on Lonely Street
- 1992 Playland
- 1993 A Streetcar Named Desire
- 1993 Two Trains Running
- 1995 Blues for an Alabama Sky
- 1996 The Last Night of Ballyhoo
- 1998 Aida
- 2004 A Raisin in the Sun
- 2004 Gem of the Ocean
- 2005 Margaret Garner
- 2007 Radio Golf
- 2010 Every Tongue Confess
- 2010 Fences
- 2011 The Mountaintop
- 2011 Stick Fly
- 2014 A Raisin in the Sun (Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play)
- 2014 Holler If Ya Hear Me
- 2016 Smart People
- 2017 Holler If Ya Hear Me
- 2018 Children of a Lesser God
- 2018 American Son
A Raisin in the Sun – Broadway 2014
- 2008 A Raisin in the Sun
- 2009 Ghost Whisperer Episode: “Excessive Forces”
- 2010 Private Practice Episode: “‘Til Death Do Us Part”
- 2011 Private Practice Episode: “Heaven Can Wait”
- 2012 Steel Magnolias
- 2014 In My Dreams
- 2015 The Wiz Live!
- 2016 Hairspray Live!
- 1990 In The Heat Of The Night “Hello In There”
- Brock, Wendell (January 2012). “Leon Takes the Lead”. Jezebel Magazine. p. 48.
‘It doesn’t get better than that…’ says the Tallahassee, Fla., native who turns 56 in February.
- “Playbill News: PLAYBILL.COM’S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Kenny Leon”. playbill.com. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
- Search Past Winners. History. Tony Awards. t IBM Corp., Tony Award Productions 2000, 2015. Retrieved November 29, 2015
- “Honorary Planetary Citizen of the Month”. gccalliance.org. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
- “Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre”. Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
- Simi Horwitz, “Interview – Director Kenny Leon Juggles ‘Dinner,’ ‘Steel Magnolias,’ and Tupac Musical”, Backstage, April 11, 2012.
- ““A RAISIN IN THE SUN’s Kenny Leon Wins Tony for Best Direction of a Play”, “Broadwayworld.com”, June 8, 2014″. broadwayworld.com. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
- Leon, Kenny. “NPR Presents Water±”. NPR.org. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
- “”‘The Wiz’ Set as NBC’s Next Live Musical”, “Hollywood Reporter”, March 30, 2015″. hollywoodreporter.com. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
- Firestone, Lonnie. “Hairspray Live Is Figuring Out How to Perfect the Live Musical”. HWD. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
- “Honoree Kenny Leon”.
- “Georgia Council for the Arts – Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities”. gaarts.org. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
- “Going Universal with Kenny Leon, New Denzel Washington Chair”. Fordham Newsroom. 8 September 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
- Libbey, Peter (8 June 2018). “Kerry Washington Is Going From the Beltway to Broadway”. Retrieved 15 January 2019 – via NYTimes.com.