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Leslie Lee

( b. Nov 06, 1930 Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, USA - d. Jan 20, 2014 New York, New York, USA ) Male

Leslie Lee was a playwright whose award-winning work, much of it with the Negro Ensemble Company, focused on stretching the boundaries of the African-American experience as it was portrayed on the stage.

Over four decades, Mr. Lee wrote more than two dozen stage works, scouring American history for his subjects and characters. In Black Eagles, he wrote about black fighter pilots in Italy in World War II. In Ground People (originally titled The Rabbit Foot), he wrote about Southern black sharecroppers and visiting minstrel-show performers in the 1920s.

In Blues in a Broken Tongue, the daughter of a family that had moved to Russia in the 1930s as an escape from racism discovers a pile of recordings by Billie Holiday, Paul Robeson and others and reconsiders her heritage. An early play, The War Party, was about the conflicts within a community civil rights organization in the 1960s.

In The Book of Lambert, written in the 1970s and set contemporaneously on an abandoned New York subway platform, a black intellectual has been reduced to despair by the loss of the white woman he loves. In Colored People's Time, Mr. Lee presented a century of black history, from the Civil War to the dawn of the civil rights movement, in a pageantlike parade of vignettes.

Most of Mr. Lee's work was produced Off Broadway and on regional stages, though his best-known play, The First Breeze of Summer (1975), appeared on Broadway, at the Palace Theater, after moving from the St. Mark's Playhouse, then the home of the Negro Ensemble Company, in the East Village. It was nominated for a Tony Award for best play.

The First Breeze of Summer tells the story of a middle-class black family in Pennsylvania whose ambitious and sensitive younger son is emotionally derailed when he learns the past secrets of the grandmother he reveres. Mr. Lee acknowledged that it was an autobiographical work. And at a time when black theater was often polemical, it was notable for its naturalistic drama and its probing of family dynamics and character.

His other stage work includes two collaborations with the composer Charles Strouse and the lyricist Lee Adams, creators of Bye Bye Birdie, Applause and other shows. Together they updated another Strouse-Adams show, Golden Boy, the 1964 musical based on Clifford Odets's boxing drama; the newer version, with Mr. Lee's book, was presented in 1989 at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida.

The three men also worked on a musical about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that follows Dr. King from his teenage years in Atlanta to the Montgomery bus boycott of the 1950s. The show had its premiere Off Broadway at the Kraine Theater in 2011.

Source: The New York Times obituary

ProductionsDate of Productions
The First Breeze of Summer
[Play, All Black Cast, Original]
  • Written by Leslie Lee
Jun 10, 1975 - Jul 20, 1975
1976 Tony Award® Best Play
The First Breeze of Summer [nominee]
Written by Leslie Lee
Find out where Leslie Lee and are credited together