Kandi Burruss and EBONY Power 100 recipient Brian Anthony Moreland have something to smile about. The Real Housewives of Atlanta star, along with fellow producers Sonia Friedman, Tom Kirdahy and Burruss’ husband of nine years, Todd Tucker, have announced that their hit Broadway revival of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson has officially become the highest-grossing Wilson play on Broadway in history and the highest grossing revival of a play on Broadway this season.
It’s a major win for Burruss and Moreland who are working with director LaTanya Richardson Jackson, the first woman to direct a Wilson play, and an all-star cast that includes her husband Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington and Danielle Brooks. EBONY sat down with the duo to learn more about their harmonious union, and the recipe to bring more financially successful Black dramas to Broadway.
EBONY: How did you get paired up to produce the revival of The Piano Lesson?
Brian Moreland: I love this question because pairing sounds like there was a huge master plan to make it all happen. I had the pleasure and honor of working with Kandi on a previous show called Thoughts of a Colored Man. She has this collaborative, roll up your sleeves, put your hands in the dirt and let's really make this garden grow-type of mentality. And I asked, do you want to do it again? As soon as The Piano Lesson was ready to go, I called her and she said, “OK, I'm in.”
Kandi, was your mind blown when you saw the cast of this production?
Kandi Buruss: Definitely. I’ve looked up to Samuel L. Jackson most of my life. He's one of the top African American actors that I grew up watching. And LaTanya being the director was a big part for me because I'm always about seeing women open doors and taking things to the next level. For her to be the first woman to ever direct an August Wilson production is big deal in my mind. Danielle and I were already cool before we ever became a part of this journey together. She sent me a picture the other day from back when she was doing The Color Purple on Broadway when I went to see and support her. She said to me, “Wow, look where we were then and how we're doing this together now.” It's amazing to be able to work with people you look up to and admire and people that you are friends with to make something major.
How does this revival speak to a new generation of theatergoers?
Moreland: What I think LaTanya has done with her casting is to really bring the language to the masses through moments, so that we can understand and relate to it.
Burruss: There’s a part where Trey gives a speech to Bernice, it’s a real preacher vibe, and you want to get up out of your seat and do a praise dance. I love that moment.
Brian, you have a real-life moment that parallels this play.
Moreland: I have a sister and we argued over my grandmother's hutch where they kept their china. When my grandparents passed, it was something I really wanted to hold on to. And so I have that with me.
How can we bring more Black women behind the scenes to produce and direct on Broadway?
Burress: For a long time, Broadway was known as the Great White Way. It's very important to me as a person of color to open doors for Black women. Every time in entertainment, the men outweigh the women. It's been that way since I was a child in the music industry. No matter what part of entertainment I'm in, it always seems like there are fewer of us in power positions than anybody else. So it's been my goal in life to kick down the door, get myself in and bring others with me. That is my intention.
Thinking about shows like Ain’t No Mo’ and A Strange Loop not getting the audience that they needed to sustain their Broadway runs. What do we need to do to keep the financial success of Black plays on Broadway?
Moreland: I really love that you brought up the “F” word, the financial success of a play because it is commercial theater. Broadway is a private business that's privately funded, and part and parcel of that financial success come from the people who are producing it and the people who invest in it. On The Piano Lesson, we have a great deal of African American investors who were willing to risk their money and really get their hands dirty by giving their time for press, radio and television interviews and appearances. And then trying new things, some guerilla marketing. We did a dinner package with the Brooklyn Chop House. We've got date nights coming up. It’s about collaborating with partners to do something new that will bring a fresh audience to the show. You have to market the show and advertise. We’re coming out of a $1 million week and yet we still have more work to do. It all depends on your producing partners and the teams that you assemble, the people on stage and the vision behind it. It's all of the above that make these shows financially viable and successful on Broadway.
Where will you put your Tony Awards if you win Best Revival this year?
Burruss: Speak it into our lives!
Moreland: I've never won a Tony, so I do feel very, very special about this production. Kandi, where are you going to put your Tony, next to your Grammy?
Burruss: Yes, it’s sitting on the piano.
Which sounds so appropriate. What are you thinking of producing next together?
Burruss: We are stuck together. I feel like Brian has been my mentor through this process. In any business I've been in, I've figured out a way to be in front of and behind the scenes. When it comes to Broadway, it's not easy to get in this world and to navigate. It's just different in how they connect and network. Meeting Brian has been a life changer for me.
Moreland: I would love to bring Ain't Misbehavin' to Broadway. I’d love to do Dreamgirls with Kandi because she's got that music side and the way her brain and ears work. Y'all really have no idea. It's really crazy, out-of-the-box thinking that happens, and it’s amazing.
The Piano Lesson is playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York City through January 29, 2023.