Forest Whitaker Takes On Eugene O'Neill in His Highly Anticipated Broadway Debut

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The lights of Broadway will shine brighter next month with the star power of Forest Whitaker, who makes his Broadway debut in Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie at the Booth Theatre February 8.

Michael Grandage, the award-winning British director and producer who won the Tony Award for his production of Red starring Alfred Molina, and who brought audiences Hamlet starring Jude Law, says Whitaker was the deciding factor when he was offered the opportunity to direct the one-act masterpiece by the great Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright. “My instinct was to work with somebody who is going to explode on the stage in an exciting and dynamic way. I knew his acting well from the screen, so I know he can definitely do that,” says the visionary director.

Over the past decades, Whitaker has delivered towering performances in film — as the musician Charlie Parker, his breakthrough role in Clint Eastwood’s 1988 biopic Bird; as the deranged Ugandan despot Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, a tour de force that won him the Academy Award and Golden Globe for best actor; and, more recently, as the African American head servant at the White House in Lee Daniels’s The Butler, in which he costarred with Oprah Winfrey.

“The one thing that is a common denominator with all his work as an actor is that he not only offers wonderful scale and size in his portrayals, but he also offers considerable detail and nuance,” notes Grandage. “I think his approach is perfect for O’Neill and perfect for the particular character he plays in Hughie. The themes of the play are as pertinent and as alive as they ever were. The play can reach out from the stage and touch people in quite a meaningful way, and I think Forest is definitely up to that journey.”

Hughie, which Eugene O’Neill wrote in 1942, takes place in a seedy midtown hotel in 1920s New York. Whitaker plays longtime resident Erie Smith, a small-time gambler and con man who has just returned from a five-day drunken bender. Erie regales the hapless hotel Night Clerk on duty (played by Tony Award winner Frank Wood) with nonstop grandiose tales about himself as he chases his American Dream.

Hughie first premiered on Broadway in 1964 and has since been revived twice to great acclaim. Whitaker will make his Broadway debut in this current revival, taking on the role for which the legendary Jason Robards received a Tony nomination in 1965 and the great Ben Gazzara another in 1975; the last embodied by Al Pacino in a sold-out run in 1996. Here’s what the Oscar-winning actor has to say about his upcoming first venture on the New York stage

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