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Ray Charles musical heading to Broadway after run at Pasadena Playhouse

March 11, 2010 |  5:44 pm


While the venerated Pasadena Playhouse closed its main stage in February due to budgetary pressures, some of the company's recent productions are finding life beyond Southern California.

On Thursday, producers announced that "Unchain My Heart, The Ray Charles Musical" will open on Broadway in November. The jukebox musical was staged at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2007 under the title "Ray Charles Live! A New Musical."

The Broadway production will be staged by Sheldon Epps, who directed the version at the Pasadena Playhouse and who currently serves as the artistic director of the financially troubled company.

Suzan-Lori Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, has penned the book for the musical. Stuart Benjamin, who served as a producer on the Oscar-winning 2004 film "Ray," is producing the show.

The theater and 20-member cast for the Broadway production will be announced at a later date.

"Unchain My Heart," which is scheduled to officially open on Nov. 7, takes place during the final live recording session by the musical legend and traces the main events of his life.

Times theater critic Charles McNulty was singularly unimpressed with the  Pasadena production when it opened in November 2007. He called the musical "a blandly commercial biographical show," and added that it presents Charles' "story in a manner that's as superficial and cliche-ridden as a TV movie."

McNulty also included the musical in his list of the worst stage productions he saw for the year.

The Broadway production includes Charles' hits including "Georgia on My Mind," "Hit The Road, Jack" and the title song, “Unchain My Heart.” 

Another past Pasadena Playhouse production, "Looped," has also found a berth on Broadway. The comedy, starring Valerie Harper, ran in Pasadena in 2008 and is set to open Sunday at the Lyceum Theatre in New York.

-- David Ng

Photo: Brandon Victor Dixon in a scene from "Ray Charles Live!" at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2007. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

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