TONY Winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson Directs August Wilson's "Seven "Guitars"
By Leslie (Hoban) Blake
The legacy of the late August Wilson is so much more than merely the sum of his ten-play cycle dating from 1900 to 2000. Just ask Ruben Santiago-Hudson, currently directing the Signature Theatre (555 W. 42nd St., (212) 244-7529) revival of Seven Guitars through September 23rd. In 1996, Hudson won a TONY for his portrayal of Canewell in the Broadway premiere of “Seven Guitars,” directed by famed Wilson collaborator, Lloyd Richards, who passed away on June 29 of this year.
“August and Lloyd were such strong influences on me and they taught me so much as a man, an actor and especially as a director,” Hudson says over a quick bite just before a matinee preview in early August. “They gave me the style of patience to work things until you get them right. From August I learned that it’s all about the words and Lloyd allowed actors to feel safe enough to bring something of themselves to the work. “Seven Guitars” meant at least a two-year commitment as we took the play on its journey from workshops and Regional theaters to Broadway.”
In 2004, Hudson also appeared again on Broadway in Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” and then less than a year later, he directed that show at New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre, starring TONY winner Phylicia Rashad. So there’s definitely a pattern emerging—Hudson plans to eventually direct the entire Wilson canon. “August’s work always illuminates the beauty, strength, and dignity of our people. I’ve read all of his plays more than once and I refer to them again and again. They are the bible, and the text,” he says holding up a copy of “King Hedley II,” the reputed sequel to “SG,“ set in the 80s.
A multi-hyphenated stage and film artist, Hudson also wrote and starred in “Lackawanna Blues,” a one man-show about his youth featuring original music from his SG collaborator, Bill Sims Jr. (see video at billsimsjr.com), subsequently made into a successful HBO film and soon to be a television series as well. Another strong influence on Hudson was and is director George C. Wolfe, who directed both versions of “LB” as well as Hudson’s 1992 Broadway debut show, “Jelly’s Last Jam.” “George gave me the freedom to try things [like writing and directing] and not to be afraid.”
In “JLJ,” Hudson played fabled cornet king Buddy Bolden, dubbed “the most powerful man in jazz history” by Jelly Roll Morton. SG concerns the lives of Floyd, Canewell, Red—three struggling Pittsburgh bluesmen and their women in the 40s—and it can’t be mere coincidence that their strange neighbor Hedley invokes Bolden’s spirit.
“The August Wilson series at Signature is very special for so many reasons, not the least of which is the $15 ticket [sponsored by Time Warner], Hudson remarks. “And there’s also a free Signature Theatre “August Wilson and the Blues” concert featuring Bill [Sims, Jr.] down at the River to River (rivertorivernyc.com) on September 9. We’re truly bringing August to the people.”