The director Thomas Kail goes by Tommy, a youthful name that matches his youthful energy, and that somehow suggests the kid from class with whom you kicked the soccer ball all the way home from school. Kail, who is staging Nathan Louis Jackson's Broke-ology at LCT's Mitzi Newhouse space this fall, doesn't resist such sports-talk. In some of the interviews done for the launch of his best-known production, the 2008 Broadway hit In the Heights, he himself brought up such comparisons.
And so he did during our recent interview about Broke-ology. "I played sports in school," he said, referring to his childhood in Alexandria, Virginia, "and wasn't very involved in theater. But when I went to college at Wesleyan, where I studied American history, I started getting involved in theater my junior year, and it sparked something that I'd lost when I stopped playing sports. Directing is a little like being a coach: you have to create a playing area where talented people can excel."
Kail is as astute at distributing credit as NBA star Chris Paul is at passing the ball. "I became aware of Broke-ology because Nathan and I share an agent, John Buzzetti. He believes in putting people together. He sent me Broke-ology just before I began rehearsals for the Broadway production of In The Heights, in December 2007."
Kail immediately flipped for the play, and once the post-opening hoopla ofHeights abated, he sat down with the playwright, in March 2008. "We talked about the play," Kail said, "and we talked about how we each saw the world. It was amazing."
On June 16, the day after In The Heights won the Tony for Best Musical, Kail went up to the Williamstown Theater Festival, in Massachusetts, and around a month later Broke-ology premiered there to enthusiastic reviews and houses.
What changes are he and his collaborators planning for the LCT production? "There's the issue of the set," Kail replied. "We've had to make adjustments, because at Williamstown it was a proscenium and at Lincoln Center it's a three-quarter thrust." And what about the actors? Francois Battiste and Wendell Pierce are returning from the initial production; Crystal A. Dickinson and Alano Miller are new. "Well," Kail said, "New cast members bring new energy to the rehearsal room, and I think we've got great people - people who can help us to tell the story. And of course with Nathan's incredible blueprint we have a lot to work with."
Jackson's story -- about an African-American family in Kansas City -- will be explored extensively in this Backstage Blog. One aspect of it that I asked Kail to comment on right now, however, was how the drama explores the feelings of two sons called home to take care of their ailing father.
"I think a lot of audience members will identify with that," Kail responded. "The play explores the time in our lives when our relationship with our mothers and fathers changes. Nathan explores with such beauty the moment when we have to start tucking our parents into bed."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com.