Simmons eyes B'way for cable show's future

Russell Simmons is looking to bring his HBO poetry series to Gotham this fall as a live stage show. “Def Poetry Jam” goes up June 25 in San Francisco at Theater on the Square for a limited engagement of approximately six weeks.

“After that, we have our sights on Broadway,” said Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records.

Carol Shorenstein Hays, lead producer on “Topdog/Underdog,” takes the producer reins on “Def Poetry Jam.” Simmons and Stan Lathan are involved as investors, and they put the capitalization of the Broadway production at $1 million-$1.5 million, which is average to low-end for a play.

In 1994, he and Lathan created HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam,” which they quickly translated into a live show for comedy clubs.

” ‘Def Comedy’ introduced a different kind of comic to the scene,” said Simmons. “Today, this poetry scene, which has been underground for 10 to 15 years, has a huge commercial following but has not been recognized by the mainstream media.”

Last December, Simmons put several poets on TV with the HBO series “Russell Simmons Present Def Poetry,” directed by Lathan.

“No one would have thought that poets in a TV generation, where everything is fast moving, could stand up for six minutes, hold the audience and get a tremendous response,” said Simmons. “Now we’re taking them and creating a Broadway show.”

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After HBO recently picked up another seven installments of “Def Poetry,” Simmons and Lathan met with Susan Weaving at William Morris to plan a possible live entertainment based on the series. The WMA agent also repped John Leguizamo’s recent “Sexaholix” tour and stint on Broadway.

“We talked about the kind of venues for this show,” Lathan recalled, “and soon arrived at the feeling this is something that could work on Broadway. It didn’t take long.”

In his pre-“Topdog/Underdog” days, Mos Def hosted the HBO poetry series. “They came out slam-style as in the clubs,” Lathan said. Mos Def won’t be on-board for the San Francisco and New York stage versions, however. In fact, the narrator role has been scotched.


“It is more revue-like,” Lathan said of the live “Def Poetry Jam,” which he will also direct. “The show is more structured. There is an arc to the evening with several group pieces, including one section of just love poems.”

Simmons and Lathan are also looking to pump up the music for the stage show, using pre-recorded hip-hop, jazz, R&B and gospel standards. “There is this music flow that ties it all together,” said Lathan.

Nine poets will perform in “Def Poetry Jam,” including Black Ice, Lemon and Suheir Hammad. Tendaji is DJ.

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