Powerhouse creative team mounts 'Trading Places' at Alliance Theatre

Crafting a successful piece of musical theater is notoriously difficult — but if anyone can do it, it’s the powerhouse creative team behind "Trading Places: The Musical."

Based on the 1983 comedy film starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, "Trading Places" is set to make its world premiere at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre on May 25. At the helm of the production is Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon, who recently staged an acclaimed revival of "A Soldier’s Play" on Broadway. 

"It’s kind of surreal, you know? I mean, I love Atlanta. It’s always been home," says Leon. "I did about 10 years as the Alliance Theatre’s artistic director and then over 10 years as artistic director of True Colors Theatre Company, but I maintained a home base here, even though I’m gone 80% of the time."

As to what drew him to "Trading Places," Leon says he wanted to explore the ways the original film could be updated to speak — and sing — to today’s audiences.

"Black women, especially in Georgia, politically have been doing some heavy lifting. So, it’s like, I want to put a Black woman at the center of it. And what if we have a gay male to play this role? And so, the team said, ‘Yeah, we like the idea of ‘Trading Places’ and we’re laughing together and we’re thinking together and we leave this place inspired.’"

That team includes book writer Thomas Lennon, best known to audiences as the creator and star of the comedy hit "Reno 911!" 

"When they say that these things don’t happen overnight, they really don’t happen overnight," laughs Lennon. "There have been movies that I’ve written, like on ‘Starsky & Hutch’ or ‘Night at the Museum’ or things like that, where they’re like, ’This films tomorrow!’ And then it’s done forever. So, this has been amazing process. I think by the time it opens we will have been 5 or 6 years on the project."

Joining Lennon are the composing team of Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner ("First Date"), who say the experience of mounting the production at the Alliance Theatre has been a blessing.

"It’s a first-class theater where you’re essentially doing the Broadway production," says Weiner. "You have the resources, you’re taken care of. So, if you need the best musicians, the best actors…you have the advantage of all the resources that a theatre like this has to really elevate your development process."

The experience of working with Kenny Leon brought legendary choreographer Fatima Robinson to the project.

"I love working with Kenny," says Robinson. "I feel like I am in school on scholarship when I get to be in a room with him. You know, I’m always learning and growing. And also I’m really interested in working in theatre more. It’s something I haven’t done as much in my life, and I’m really interested in cultivating that side of my art."

"Trading Places: The Musical" is scheduled to run from May 25 through June 26; for more information on the show and to purchase tickets, click here.