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Casting Announced for Seven Guitars; Opens Wilson Tribute

Signature Theatre Company (James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director; Kathryn Lipuma, Executive Director) announces complete casting for SEVEN GUITARS, the first play of its 2006-2007 three-play tribute to the works of August Wilson. Signature's August Wilson Series, to be presented in Signature's intimate 160-seat Peter Norton Space, is the first New York exploration of the late playwright's significant body of work. Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson (who won a Tony Award for his performance in the original Broadway production of Seven Guitars) and featuring original music written for this production by OBIE winner and blues legend Bill Sims, SEVEN GUITARS runs July 31-September 23 at Signature Theatre Company's Peter Norton Space (555 W. 42nd St.). Opening night is scheduled for Thursday, August 17.

To make great theatre accessible to the broadest possible audience, Signature has established a special $15 ticket price (regularly $55) for all performances in the originally scheduled 8-week runs of the three plays in the August Wilson Series: Seven Guitars, Two Trains Running (beginning performances in November) and King Hedley II (beginning performances in February 2007). The $15 ticket price and the August Wilson Series are made possible by the lead sponsorship of Time Warner Inc. Target is a proud sponsor of the August Wilson Series.

"August Wilson's contribution to the American theatre is beyond measure," says James Houghton. "We are thrilled to be presenting three of his legendary twentieth-century cycle plays and deeply honored by the faith his estate has bestowed upon Signature Theatre Company. As August worked with us over the past few years he was excited for his work to be presented in New York in an intimate setting and at an affordable price making the work accessible to all. We hope to do him proud."

"August left so much for us to do and to explore," says director Ruben Santiago-Hudson. "He was fully in love with African-American people, their laughter, anger, style and perseverance. It's a glorious thing for me to be in a position to honor the integrity of this man's work, which says: All my people are worthy and their worst qualities are redeemable."

The cast for SEVEN GUITARS will feature Kevin Carroll (Angels in America, Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk) as Canewell; Cassandra Freeman (Spike Lee's The Inside Man, Intimate Apparel/Guthrie) as Ruby; Stephen McKinley Henderson (King Hedley II, Jitney) as Red Carter; Brenda Pressley (Dreamgirls, Fran's Bed) as Louise; Lance Reddick ("Oz," "The Wire") as Floyd Barton; Roslyn Ruff (The Cherry Orchard, Macbeth/Classical Theatre of Harlem) as Vera; and Charles Weldon (Co-founder of Negro Ensemble Company, Gem of the Ocean/Pittsburgh Public) as Hedley.

Hope and heartbreak abound in Pittsburgh's Hill District as seven people share frustration, joy and loss in 1948. Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton, an aspiring blues musician, returns home to seek his fortune and reclaim his woman; a sick old man longs for an heir to carry on his name; and three single women cope with betrayal and lost dreams. Like seven musical instruments, each one strikes a singular note in a discordant world.

SEVEN GUITARS will have scenic design by Richard Hoover; costumes by Karen Perry; lights by Jane Cox; sound by Darron L. West; and fight direction by Rick Sordelet.

August Wilson (April 27, 1945 - October 2, 2005). August Wilson authored Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II, and Radio Golf. These works explore the heritage and experience of African Americans, decade-by-decade, over the course of the twentieth century. Mr. Wilson's plays have been produced at regional theaters across the country and all over the world, as well as on Broadway. In 2003, Mr. Wilson made his professional stage debut in his one-man show, How I Learned What I Learned. Mr. Wilson's works garnered many awards, including Pulitzer Prizes for Fences (1987); and for The Piano Lesson (1990); a Tony Award for Fences; Great Britain's Olivier Award for Jitney; as well as seven New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, and Jitney. Additionally, the cast recording of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom received a 1985 Grammy Award, and Mr. Wilson received a 1995 Emmy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of The Piano Lesson. Mr. Wilson's early works included the one-act plays: The Janitor, Recycle, The Coldest Day of the Year, Malcolm X, The Homecoming and the musical satire Black Bart and the Sacred Hills.

Mr. Wilson received many fellowships and awards, including Rockefeller and Guggenheim Fellowships in Playwrighting, the Whiting Writers Award, 2003 Heinz Award, was awarded a 1999 National Humanities Medal by the President of the United States, and received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities, as well as the only high school diploma ever issued by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He was an alumnus of New Dramatists, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a 1995 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and on October 16, 2005 Broadway named the theater located at 245 West 52nd Street "The August Wilson Theatre."

Mr. Wilson was born and raised in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and lived in Seattle, Washington at the time of his death. He is immediately survived by his two daughters, Sakina Ansari and Azula Carmen Wilson, and his wife, costume designer Constanza Romero.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Director) received the 1996 Tony Award for Best Featured Performer in Wilson's Seven Guitars. He made his Broadway debut four years earlier as Buddy Bolden opposite Gregory Hines in Jelly's Last Jam. Ruben received rave reviews for his starring role in the off-Broadway production of Deep Down and as Walter Lee Younger in the Williamstown Theater Festival production of A Raisin in the Sun. He also starred as Roma in the McCarter Theatre production of Glengarry Glen Ross. He won the 2005 Humanitas Prize for his screenplay for Lackawanna Blues on HBO. The screenplay was written from his award-winning play of the same name. For television, he starred opposite Halle Berry in ABC's "Their Eyes Were Watching God" for producers Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones. His other television appearances include "Dr. Percy Julian," "The Red Sneakers," "American Tragedy," "Hunt for The Unicorn Killer," "Which Way Home," "Solomon and Sheba," and "Rear Window." His film credits include Domestic Disturbance, Bleeding Hearts, Blown Away, Coming to America, Devil's Advocate, and Shaft. He can also be "heard" as the voice of the villain Jess Chapel in the HBO animated cartoon series "Spawn."

BILL SIMS (Original Music/Musical Direction) won a 2001 OBIE Award for the one-act play Lackawanna Blues along with Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Sims is considered one of the best musicians in the New York City blues scene. He founded his own band, Bill Sims and the Coldblooded Blues Band, in 1988 where he is both lead guitarist and lead vocalist. Besides regularly performing at the best blues clubs in the city, he tours extensively in the US and abroad. He released his first CD, Blues Before Sunrise, in 1992 and his second CD, Bill Sims, in 1999 to coincide with a 10-hour PBS special about his life.

Signature Theatre Company was founded in 1991 by Artistic Director James Houghton and is the first theatre in the United States dedicated to season-long explorations of a single-living-playwright's body of work. The company's first nine seasons presented the works of Romulus Linney, Lee Blessing, Edward Albee, Horton Foote, Adrienne Kennedy, Sam Shepard, Arthur Miller, John Guare and Maria Irene Fornes. The 10th Anniversary of Signature Theatre Company -- its 2000-02 All-Premiere Celebration -- featured new works from a selection of the theatre's distinguished past Playwrights-in-Residence. The 2002-03 Season was dedicated to Lanford Wilson, the 2003-04 Season to Bill Irwin, and the 2004-05 Season to Paula Vogel. The 15th Anniversary Legacy Season (2005-2006) featured the award-winning Trip to Bountiful by Horton Foote and John Guare's Landscape of the Body. As a direct result of the company's work, Signature, its productions and its resident writers have been recognized with the Pulitzer Prize, Lucille Lortel Awards, OBIE Awards and Drama Desk Awards, among many other distinctions. The National Theatre Conference recognized the company as the 2003 Outstanding National Theatre of the Year.

Signature Theatre Company, along with the Joyce International Dance Center, has been designated to create a new performing arts center at the World Trade Center site to be designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. At Signature Center, currently slated to open in 2009/2010, Signature will expand its programming through the creation of three distinct residency programs that reflect the company's core mission to develop and explore the work of an individual playwright.

Sponsorship Information

Signature's 15th Anniversary $15 Ticket Initiative and the August Wilson Series are made possible by the lead sponsorship of Time Warner Inc.

Target is a proud sponsor of the August Wilson Series.

The Laura Pels Foundation is a generous sponsor of Seven Guitars.

Additional funding for Anniversary programming has been provided by Altria Group, Inc., The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Special thanks to The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust for supporting new American plays at Signature Theatre Company. WNYC is the media sponsor of Signature Theatre Company.

The 15th Anniversary Season is supported, in part, by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency.

Signature Theatre COMPANY's Peter Norton Space is located at 555 W. 42nd Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues). SEVEN GUITARS runs July 31-September 23 with an official press opening on Thursday, August 17. All tickets for the scheduled 8-week run of SEVEN GUITARS are $15. The box office opens on Thursday, June 22 at 1 PM.

Performance schedule is Mondays at 8 PM; Tuesdays at 7 PM; Wednesday matinees at 2 PM; Wednesdays-Fridays at 8 PM; and Saturdays at 2 PM and 8 PM. (There will be no performances on Wednesday, August 2 at 2 PM; Friday, August 11 at 8 PM; and Monday, September 4 at 8 PM.) Talk Backs are scheduled for Tuesdays August 6, 22, 29 and September 12 immediately following the 7 PM performance. For subscription and single ticket information, please call (212) 244-PLAY (7529).


August Wilson and the Blues

Castle Clinton National Monument in Battery Park at 7:00 PM

Signature Theatre Company hosts an evening of words and music in tribute to legendary American playwright August Wilson. The event will highlight the influence of the blues on Mr. Wilson's play Seven Guitars.

Signature Theatre Company's 15th Anniversary Programming continues with the August Wilson Series. All tickets, for all productions, will be $15.

Two Trains Running (November 2006)

In 1969 Pittsburgh, the regulars at a popular local diner grind out an existence against the backdrop of a turbulent world and rapidly changing city. Memphis Lee looks to prevent the demolition of his restaurant in the face of a municipal project while across the street, Mr. West, the local funeral director, has more business than he can handle. Faced with racial inequality, a depressed economy and the threat of violence, the local residents fight to hang on to their solidarity and sense of community.

King Hedley II (February 2007)

Set in a backyard in the decaying Hill District of Pittsburgh, King Hedley II follows the characters created by August Wilson in Seven Guitars. A woman is tormented by a secret she has kept for 36 years, while her only son returns home after serving time for murder to find a neighborhood riddled with crime, poverty and broken families. King's epic struggle to survive is at the center of this poetic portrayal of life in the inner city during the 1980's.

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