Lackawanna Blues is an American play written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson that premiered in 2001. It was later adapted as a television movie that aired in 2005. The play dramatizes the character of the author's primary caregiver when he was growing up in Lackawanna, New York, during the 1950s and 1960s.
The play debuted off Broadway April 14, 2001, at the Joseph Papp Theater in New York City. It was directed by Loretta Greco, produced by George C. Wolfe, and the executive producer was Fran Reiter. Rosemarie Tichler was the artistic producer.
The play is a montage of reminiscences, memories, testimonials and roman a clefs of "Miss Rachel," or Nanny, as the young Ruben Santiago, Jr. calls her. Largely abandoned by his parents, Ruben finds that Nanny becomes his surrogate family. Various incidents in Ruben's and Nanny's life are portrayed, with a large cast of quirky minor characters—friends, boarders, family members, visitors, relatives, and so on—providing commentary on Nanny's strength of character, intelligence, and morality.
The play included several songs, either sung by the characters in the play or as ambient music heard via a radio or through a window. Bill Sims Jr. provided the original music, as well as performing on-stage acoustic guitar for the play.
Lackawanna Blues is intended to be a one-man show. The actor narrating the play (an adult Ruben) was intended to portray more than 20 other characters, as well as the starring role of the young Ruben.
The play was very well received. The New York Times called it a "tour de force." Playwright Ruben Santiago-Hudson won an OBIE special citation for Lackawanna Blues, while Bill Sims, Jr. won an OBIE for his music.
This is the true story of Ruben Santiago Jr. growing up in Lackawanna, New York. He was raised by his father and mother and the neighborhood boarding house lady known as Rachel "Nanny" Crosby. Ruben was born in 1956 to his Puerto Rican father Ruben Santiago and his African-American mother Alean Hudson. His mother was too mentally unstable to take good care of him; residing in mental hospitals, Alean disappears and reappears throughout Ruben's life. His father stayed at Nanny's boarding house, but he was frequently not around due to working long hours or out looking for work. Nanny more or less took care of Ruben Jr. as a mother figure. The television movie tells of his life growing up there and of the diverse characters that he meets during his and their stays at the boarding house.
For her work in the movie, S. Epatha Merkerson won a Best Actress Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Emmy Awards in 2006. The film was directed by George C. Wolfe, who had commissioned the stage version.
The principal cast of characters in the film included:
- Marcus Carl Franklin – Ruben Santiago Jr. as a boy, ages 7–10
- S. Epatha Merkerson – Rachel "Nanny" Crosby
- Hill Harper – Ruben Santiago Jr. as an adult
- Jimmy Smits – Ruben Santiago Sr., Ruben's father
- Terrence Howard – Bill Crosby, Nanny's much younger husband
- Mos Def – The Bandleader
- Carmen Ejogo – Alean Hudson, Ruben's mother
- Louis Gossett Jr. – Ol'lem Taylor, a retired Negro League baseball player
- Macy Gray – Pauline, a resident
- Ernie Hudson – Dick Barrymore, a cabaret owner
- Delroy Lindo – Mr. Lucious, a resident
- Rosie Perez – Bertha, a hairdresser
- Liev Schreiber – Ulysses Ford, a social worker
- Julie Benz – Laura, an abused wife
- Patricia Wettig – Laura's Mother
- Jeffrey Wright – Small Paul
- Ruben Santiago Jr. – Freddie Cobbs, a World War II veteran
- Robert Bradley – Otis McClanahan (credited as "Robert A. Bradley" in some sources )
- Jana Grazer – Hotel Receptionist in Toronto (unaccredited)
The blind Detroit street singer Robert Bradley from the band Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise also appears in the film. He performs on-screen and has three songs featured on the soundtrack (including a duet with Macy Gray).
- Weber, Bruce. "Thanks, Miss Rachel, Thanks for Raising Me", New York Times. April 17, 2001.
- "Santiago-Hudson's Got the Lackawanna Blues at the Public, April 14." Playbill. April 14, 2001.
- McKinley, Jesse. "Little Things That Count." New York Times. December 28, 2001.
- Simonson, Robert. "Lackawanna Blues Sings Its Last at Public Theater, May 27." Playbill. May 27, 2001.
- Lee, Felicia R. (2005-02-06), "Lost and Found In Lackawanna", New York Times