“It was an emotional event,” says Michael Wilson, former artistic director of Hartford Stage, who was at the White House’s Executive Building Monday, Feb. 24 for the screening of “The Trip to Bountiful,” Lifetime Television’s film version of the Tony Award-nominated Broadway revival of the Horton Foote play. First Lady Michelle Obama delivered remarks after the screening about the film and African American History Month.
The First Lady and her two daughters attended am August performance of “Bountiful” when it was on Broadway last year. They also went backstage to congratulate the cast.
Wilson, who staged the Broadway production, makes his film directing debut with the TV movie that will be broadcast Saturday, March 8 at 8 p.m. (Rebroadcast March 9 at 12 a.m. and 9 p.m.; March 10 at 1 a.m.). The film stars Cicely Tyson, who won a Tony Award for her performance in the play, which received a total of four Tony Award nominations.
Featured in the film are Vanessa Williams (who was in the Broadway production), Blair Underwood and Keke Palmer. All four actors were at the Washington DC screening, along with the playwright’s daughter, actress-producer Hallie Foote.
“We were among the college students who were brought in to the event,” says Wilson, “because the First Lady wanted them to see examples of how you can achieve your goals with perseverance.”
“She was a warm and charismatic speaker and she gave rousing remarks, speaking not only on behalf of the arts but what the film meant to her on terms of home and understanding your roots and achieving your goals,’’ says Wilson. “She also wore a colorful and dazzling spring dress.”
Wilson and cast members had a private tour of the White House afterwards.
Wilson also cast familiar Hartford Stage actors in the film, including Curtis Billings, Devon Abner, Pat Bowie, Arthur French. Hallie Foote is executive producer along with Bill Haber of Westport. Sound and music is by John Gromada, a Hartford Stage design regular. Jeff Cowie, who designed the Broadway production, “shadowed” the film’s production designer Eric Fraser.
During Wilson’s 13-year tenure at Hartford Stage, there was a close association between the theater, Wilson and the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Horton Foote, whose work was frequently presented at the theater, most notably with the three-part, nine-hour “The Orphans’ Home Cycle” that transferred off-Broadway. Foote died in Hartford in 2009 at the age of 92, while completing the script.