jakub | May 5, 2024

AMERICAN THEATRE | ‘The Preacher’s Wife’ Gets Another Amen

What happens when we pray? Is anyone listening? In the 1996 film The Preacher’s Wife, the Biggs family finds the answer when an angel named Dudley drops into their home, in apparent answer to Rev. Henry Biggs’s entreaties about a number of problems: His marriage to his wife, Julia, is on the fritz, their son Jeremiah’s friend Hakim is at risk of going to foster care, and their church is in danger of closing. Based on the 1928 novel The Bishop’s Wife, also a 1947 film with Cary Grant, the film starred Whitney Houston, Courtney B. Vance, and Denzel Washington.

Now actor Tituss Burgess, best known for his role as Titus Andromedon on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and writer Azie Dungey (Girls5eva, Harlem), have turned The Preacher’s Wife into a musical, premiering at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre May 11-June 9. The project has been a labor of love for the two writers, who met on the set of Kimmy Schmidt and have been working on the script and score for six years. They’ve left the original plot intact—the church is still in danger of closing due to a predatory developer, and Henry’s marriage is still cracking under pressure—but they’ve updated it to modern times, delved deeper into the angel Dudley’s own crisis of faith, and recentered Julia in the narrative.

The Preacher’s Wife is saying it’s about her, but it’s about her in relationship to a man,” Dungey said. “Women are often identified by their roles, like mother or daughter. Every iteration of this narrative has said it’s the story of the wife, but it has really been about the men. We wanted to use that and comment on that.”

In addition to reorienting the story, the duo have penned a completely original score with a handful of gospel songs. “You’ll hear the backdrop of my upbringing, mass choir sounds,” said Burgess, “but what I’m most excited about is that you’ll hear what I know and love about musical theatre.”

That’s not the only element he and Dungey are eager to share with audiences. As Burgess put it, “I’m excited to see how it lands on audiences who don’t traditionally look to theatre to find stories about faith.” Added Dungey, “There’s nothing about this show that isn’t about faith.”

They aren’t just referring to the show’s religious setting but to the importance of faith in each other, in their community, and most of all within themselves.

“If you’re having to ask for help, that also means that you feel like you’re failing in some way,” Dungey said. “So in the show we’re asking, how do we give grace to ourselves? How do we give grace to each other? How do we accept the grace of God as well?”

Kelundra Smith (she/her) is the managing editor of American Theatre as well as a playwright.

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