John Legend has signed on to co-produce an Off Broadway production of “Turn Me Loose,” a new play about comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, in a staging that will star Joe Morton (“Scandal”). Legend will also pen an original song for the production.
Morton (“The Brother From Another Planet,” “Eureka”) will portray Gregory in Gretchen Law’s play, which centers on the comic whose 1960s stand-up about the absurdity of racism led to activist work with Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers, among others. (In real life, Gregory is now 83 years old.)
John Gould Rubin, a former head of Off Broadway’s Labyrinth Theater Company, will direct the show, which begins previews May 3 ahead of a May 19 opening at Off Broadway’s Westside Theater. Actor John Carlin will also appear in the production.
Legend co-produces with Mike Jackson in association with Get Lifted Film Company (“Underground”), the production company in which the two are partners.
A famous name as an above-the-title producer can certainly help attract attention to a stage property — giving a much-needed publicity boost on an Off Broadway landscape that is often overshadowed by Broadways shows with larger marketing budgets. But celebrity producers don’t always yield big box office: Oprah Winfrey gave the original Broadway production of “The Color Purple” a leg up on its way to its eventual recoupment, but the combined might of Jay Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith couldn’t light enough of a fire at the “Fela!” box office for that show to turn a profit.