Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun

By | Mar 11, 2009

Recently there was a remake of Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun that appeared on ABC television. That production starred Sean “Diddy” Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald. The play originally debuted on the Broadway stage on March 11, 1959.

The 1959 production starred Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil and Ruby Dee. The play, as noted by Hansberry, introduced details of black life to white Broadway audiences. Many blacks attended performances of the play and as the New York Times said, it “changed American theater forever.” The play closed on June 25, 1960 after 530 performances.

The play was nominated for four Tony Awards in 1960. Best Play, Sidney Poitier for Best Actor, Claudia McNeil for Best Actress and Lloyd Richards for Best Direction. The winners of those awards that year were; The Miracle Worker, Best Play, Melvyn Douglas Best Actor for the play The Best Man, Anne Bancroft, Best Actress for The Miracle Worker and Arthur Penn, Best Direction for The Miracle Worker. The Miracle Worker, the story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan was the big winner that year.

The play was a revival in 2004 and that revival was also honored with four nominations. Best Revival of a Play, Rhylicia Rashad for Best Actress, and Sanaa Lathan and Audra McDonald both nominated for Best Featured Actress. Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald won. Best Revival Play that year went to The Lincoln Center’s Production of Henry IV.

When the play was turned into a motion picture in 1961 it featured many of the original Broadway cast including Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Ivan Dixon, Louis Gossett, Jr. and John Fiedler. Hansberry wrote the screenplay. The 2008 ABC production featured many of the performers of the 2004 revival including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald, Sanaa Lathan, and John Stamos.

A Raisin In The Sun was the brightest spot on the short career of Lorraine Hansberry. She died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 34 on January 12, 1965. Her success with A Raisin in the Sun, her second play The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1964) and her posthumous works has allowed her to be considered the mother of African-American drama.


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