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 Actor's 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 7–10S. Epatha Merkerson – Rachel "Nanny" CrosbyHill Harper – Ruben Santiago Jr. as an adultJimmy Smits – Ruben Santiago Sr., Ruben's fatherTerrence Howard – Bill Crosby, Nanny's much younger husbandMos Def – The BandleaderCarmen Ejogo – Alean Hudson, Ruben's motherLouis Gossett Jr. – Ol'lem Taylor, a retired Negro League baseball playerMacy Gray – Pauline, a residentErnie Hudson – Dick Barrymore, a cabaret ownerDelroy Lindo – Mr. Lucious, a residentRosie Perez – Bertha, a hairdresserLiev Schreiber – Ulysses Ford, a social workerJulie Benz – Laura, an abused wifePatricia Wettig – Laura's MotherJeffrey Wright – Small PaulRuben Santiago Jr. – Freddie Cobbs, a World War II veteranRobert Bradley – Otis McClanahan (credited as "Robert A. Bradley" in some sources )
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).
DVD HBOFILMS 2005 TV14 16:9 95 minutes ISBN 0-7831-3482-7 UPC 2635927492
Audio: English, French, Spanish; Subtitles: English, French, Spanish