When “Chicago” producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan saw the phenomenally reviewed (and attended) Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun” in 2004, they felt strongly that the play’s life shouldn’t be over when the curtain went down on the Great White Way.
Immediately, they began to ponder the tranistioning of the show to TV movie. The producers were particularly blown away by the Broadway debut of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs in the role of Walter Lee Younger — last played by Sidney Poitier. Combs was surrounded by an equally forceful cast that included Phylicia Rashad, Audra MacDonald and Sanaa Lathan, and the producers felt that if they were to adapt the show, the Broadway cast should remain intact.
“The show itself is really about a family, and to get that chemistry — when you have a cast of people who have done it so brilliantly, and that are the most skilled actors around — why mess with it?” Meron says.
Not that they wanted to simply redo what had already been done on Broadway.
“We wanted to adapt ‘Raisin’ as a movie, but we were not remotely interested in shooting the play,” Zadan says. And so they had a screenplay written.
Although it took two years to get all the pieces in place, in part because of Combs’ busy schedule as a music producer and clothing designer, “A Raisin in the Sun” was broadcast Feb. 25 on ABC.
The show was an enormous coup for ABC, drawing 12.7 million viewers. “Raisin” was the highest-rated TV movie among women for the season as well as the top program among all households that night.
Reviews for the show, and for Combs — whose performance was his first major role on film — were equally outstanding, and the producers called up the star to tell him, “Hey, you got Meryl Streep reviews.”