NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It’s long overdue, but on Tuesday, “A Soldier’s Play” will officially open on Broadway, nearly 40 years after the play premiered off-Broadway.
“A Soldier’s Play” is Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama set on a Louisiana Army base in 1944. David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood lead the ensemble in this murder mystery, where racial tension and internal strife are deeply rooted.
“There’s a lot going on. At its bones, it is a whodunnit, a murder mystery,” Grier says.
It’s a familiar story for Grier. In 1981, he joined the original Negro Ensemble Company’s off-Broadway cast of “A Soldier’s Play.” It featured Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and the late Adolph Caesar.
Grier was also in the 1984 movie “A Soldier’s Story” with some of those same actors who appeared in the stage version.
Now, almost 40 years later, “A Soldier’s Play” is finally on Broadway and Grier is back in the military drama that helped launch his acting career.
“I love Broadway. This is my sixth, I think sixth or seventh production on Broadway. My first professional job was on Broadway. Here’s what it is, every time I come back to New York, I hear, welcome home. We missed you, where have you been? It’s a very small, unique and special community that I feel privileged to be a part of. I love to walk down the street and walk through that stage door. It never gets old,” he says.
This time, Grier plays Sgt. Waters.
“He is a racist but also a very complicated man,” Grier explains. “He’s a hard-nosed sergeant, but then you peel away those layers and you realize why he’s chosen this persona.”
“It’s the epitome of our theater experience in the United States. It’s the ultimate,” Underwood says. “So the beauty of Broadway is that at 8’clock most nights, 7’clock some nights, the curtain is going up on 41 different stages at the same time, and there is a community here on Broadway. It’s always an honor to come be a part of that team, part of that community. People say a stage is a stage is a stage. No. There are stages and then there’s the Broadway stage and the Broadway community and New York electricity and energy and everything that comes with that. So it’s an incredible level.”
Underwood’s Cpt. Davenport is tasked with solving the murder of a sergeant who had many enemies in the ranks.
“His job is to uncover the truth, and the truth is not always what you think it’s going to be or maybe should be and it’s quite revealing,” he says. “It’s about exploring ourselves, understanding ourselves and, really in this case, seeing how we see ourselves in general.”
Actor Jerry O’Connell says “A Soldier’s Play” is just as relevant today as it was decades years ago.
“It’s the first time my character has met an officer of equal rank who is of color, and it’s just the most important thing I’ve ever worked on,” he says. “It’s so exciting to be on Broadway because everyone in the world says ‘welcome home,’ it just makes you feel so cool. As an actor, this is where you want to be. This is it.”
“Well, what happens with racism, especially institutionalized racism, it seeps and drips into every household in America,” director Kenny Leon says. “You get to the point where you’re hating yourself or you’re hating the people that look like you.”
Nnamdi Asomugha makes his Broadway debut in “A Soldier’s Play.”
“I’m humbled. I’m honored to be a part of it. I think we all are,” he says.
Asomugha spent 11 years in the NFL, is married to actress Kerry Washington and is also a TV and movie producer. So when did he get the acting bug?
“I knew when I finished playing football, I needed to find a job, so I wanted to look for something that I enjoyed, something that still gave me that same fire that sports gave me, and this has really done that for me,” he says. “It’s immediate and you’re breathing the same air as the audience and you’re using that same energy and you’re able to use your full body.”
“A Soldier’s Play” is playing at the American Airlines Theatre on 42nd Street through March 15.