John Legend, Lynn Nottage, Liesl Tommy Teaming Up For Imitation of Life Musical

This news follows a private industry reading of the Imitation of Life musical that took place from April 24 to 28, 2023,

Universal Theatrical Group (UTG), the live theater division of Universal Pictures, is developing an “Imitation of Life” musical. Based on the novel by Fannie Hurst and the Universal Pictures films, the production will feature a book by Lynn Nottage, music and lyrics by John Legend, and will be directed by Liesl Tommy.

This news follows a private industry reading of the Imitation of Life musical that took place from April 24 to 28, 2023, in New York City. “Imitation of Life” will be produced for the stage by Universal Theatrical Group and Get Lifed Film Co., with Wagner Johnson Productions serving as the General Manager.

The novel “Imitation of Life” by Fannie Hurst was originally published in 1933, and it inspired two film adaptations by Universal Pictures. The 1934 film, directed by John Stahl and starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and is recognized by the U.S. National Film Registry for its cultural significance. The 1959 film, directed by Douglas Sirk and featuring Lana Turner and Juanita Moore, received two Academy Award nominations.

“Imitation of Life” delves into the complexities of racial identity, economic exploitation, and the pursuit of the American dream. Set in 1920s Atlantic City, the story revolves around Delilah Johnston, a black mother, and her daughter Peola, who passes as white. As Delilah navigates her friendship and business partnership with Bea Pullman, she also strives to hold onto Peola, who is determined to forge her own daring and risky path in life.

Director Liesl Tommy expressed her enthusiasm for the project, stating, “When I met with Universal Theatrical Group to discuss a possible collaboration, the only title I wanted to explore was ‘Imitation of Life.’ I have long admired the book, and I believe that there is a passionate, contemporary, and relevant adaptation of this story that is perfectly suited for musical theater. In my mind, the ideal collaborators for this beautifully intricate and quintessentially American tale are Lynn Nottage and John Legend. Fortunately, they immediately embraced the opportunity to bring their creativity and immense talents to this retelling. We are thrilled to partner with UTG as we offer a fresh perspective on ‘Imitation of Life,’ using the power of musical theater to illuminate and uplift Black life.”

Lynn Nottage, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, has the distinction of being the first and only woman to have received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice. John Legend, an acclaimed EGOT winner and renowned recording artist, has previously won a Tony Award as a producer of the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s “Jitney.” Liesl Tommy, who recently directed the highly anticipated Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect,” has received critical acclaim for her work, including a Tony Award nomination for Best Direction of Play for “Eclipsed.”

The announcement of the “Imitation of Life” musical has sparked anticipation among theater enthusiasts and fans of the original novel and films. As the project progresses, audiences eagerly await the opportunity to experience this reimagined narrative through the powerful and transformative medium of musical theater.

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