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Ray Charles bio-musical to Broadway

Show about late musician opens in the fall

Stuart Benjamin, a producer of the 2004 pic “Ray,” will bring Ray Charles bio-tuner “Unchain My Heart” to Broadway in the fall.

Show, with a book by Pulitzer winner Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog/Underdog”), incorporates Charles tunes — including “Georgia on My Mind,” “Hit the Road, Jack,” and the title song — into a retelling of Charles’ life story, with the musician’s final recording session serving as a storytelling frame.

Pasadena Playhouse presented an earlier incarnation of the tuner, then titled “Ray Charles Live!,” in a 2007 production helmed by Pasadena a.d. Sheldon Epps. Director also will stage the offering on the Main Stem.

Idea for the Charles stage show germinated in the months following the release of “Ray,” which earned two Oscars, including one for Jamie Foxx in the title role. Stage incarnation reps a separate, theatrical retelling of Charles’ life, more of which is covered on stage than was related onscreen. (Charles died in 2004.)

Musical will have a company of about 20 thesps and a band of possibly nine or 10 pieces, according to Benjamin, who expects the capitalization costs to run about average for a medium-size Broadway musical production. (In general, that middle ground can stretch anywhere from about $8 million to around $12 million.)

No casting for the Rialto incarnation has been confirmed. In Pasadena, the role of Ray was played by Brandon Victor Dixon, who is currently starring in the Off Broadway preem of “The Scottsboro Boys.”Design team includes Riccardo Hernandez (sets), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Donald Holder (lights) and Carl Casella (sound). Kenneth L. Roberson choreographs.

“Unchain” looks primed to tap a couple of potentially profitable demos. Charles’ name and roster of hit tunes could attract the same baby boomer auds that have powered “Jersey Boys” tuner about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. “Unchain” also could draw the African-American theatergoers that turned out in force for shows including “A Raisin in the Sun” and “The Color Purple.”

A music producer who worked with Charles for several years, Benjamin is a co-founder of New Visions Entertainment, which produced films including “Against All Odds” and “La Bamba.”

“Unchain” will begin previews Oct. 8 ahead of a Nov. 7 opening at a Shubert theater that remains to be determined.

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