True Colors Theatre Company co-founder Kenny Leon has won the 2016/17 Mr. Abbott Award for “outstanding artistry and creativity” throughout his 40-year (to date) career.
Some of his latest work airs Wednesday, Dec. 7, on NBC. He co-directed “Hairspray Live!,” the fourth in the network’s lineup of televised musicals.
The Abbott award, presented by the nonprofit Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, is named for George Abbott (1887-1995), a theater director and producer, playwright, screenwriter, and film director and producer whose career spanned more than nine decades.
Among the titles associated with Abbott are the original productions (and, often, revivals) of Damn Yankees; The Pajama Game; The Boys From Syracuse; On Your Toes; Where’s Charley?; Flora, the Red Menace; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Tenderloin; Fiorello!; and many more. He won eight Tony awards in his lifetime, and Fiorello! — about New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia — won the 1960 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Abbott wrote the book and directed.
Past Mr. Abbott recipients include Michael Bennett, Graciela Daniele, Agnes de Mille, Bob Fosse, James Lapine, Garson Kanin, Kathleen Marshall, Rob Marshall, Lynne Meadow, Mike Nichols, Harold Prince, Lloyd Richards, Tommy Tune, George C. Wolfe and Jerry Zaks, among many others.
Leon, 60, directs theater, film and television and, occasionally, acts. In addition to “Hairspray Live!,” he directed last year’s “The Wiz Live!,” also on NBC.
On Broadway he directed A Raisin in the Sun (2004) with Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald and (2014) with Denzel Washington, and Fences (2010) with Washington and Viola Davis, as well as The Mountaintop, Stick Fly, and August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf, among others. He won a directing Tony for the 2014 version of Raisin and was nominated for Fences. (Washington and Davis return to Fences for a feature film that opens Christmas Day. Washington directed.)
Leon co-founded True Colors in 2002 with managing director Jane Bishop. They envisioned a smartly managed, inclusive theater company that would have local and national impact. The company does three shows per season (David Auburn’s Proof recently closed; Ike Holter’s Exit Strategy runs Feb. 14-March 12 and Stephen Adly Giurgus’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Between Riverside & Crazy runs July 11-Aug. 6).
Before co-founding True Colors, Leon spent 11 years as artistic director of the Alliance Theatre, producing the premieres of the musical that became Broadway’s Aida, Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky and Alfred Uhry’s Tony-winning The Last Night of Ballyhoo.
He also co-founded the August Wilson Monologue Competition for high school students, a national education program that teaches reading comprehension, public speaking and performance techniques through the work of the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, one of America’s greatest dramatists.