Columbia College Chicago alum Tonya Pinkins ’96 — Tony Award-winning star of such Broadway musicals as Caroline, or Change and Jelly’s Last Jam — will star in the Public Theatre’s off-Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry‘s groundbreaking drama A Raisin in the Sun September 27 through November 6 at the Public’s Newman Theatre, located at 425 Lafayette Street (at Astor Place) in New York City. The show, directed by Robert O’Hara, is advertised as an “innovative new production of an American classic [that] fearlessly interrogates the American dream in the face of racial and economic strife.”
Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play – the first play by a Black woman to run on Broadway – was inspired in part by Hansberry’s own upbringing in her hometown of Chicago. The play concerns a working-class Black family living on Chicago’s South Side. When the family’s matriarch, Lena Younger – the role played by Pinkins – decides to use her late husband’s life insurance to move her family out of their cramped apartment, her dream comes into conflict with the ambitions of her son, Walter Lee, who wants to use the money to bankroll a liquor store. Walter Lee is played at the Public by Obie Award-winning actor Francois Battiste.
Like Lorraine Hansberry, Tonya Pinkins is a native of Chicago’s South Side. As a student at Chicago’s Whitney Young Magnet High School, she participated in the theatre program and also studied acting at the Goodman Theatre’s youth program. She studied Musical Theatre at Carnegie Mellon University and later studied Creative Writing at Columbia College. Besides Caroline, or Change and Jelly’s Last Jam, her Broadway credits include the original production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, the Duke Ellington jukebox musical Play On!, and August Wilson’s Radio Golf. Off-Broadway she has appeared in several Public Theatre productions, including the pre-Broadway run of Caroline, or Change. Her TV credits include the role of Livia Frye on the soap opera All My Children. She is also a filmmaker, whose debut feature film Red Pill was an official selection at the 2021 Pan African Film Festival and won awards for Best Black Lives Matter Feature and Best First Feature at the Mykonos International Film Festival.