Jon Batiste, the jazz and R&B multi-instrumentalist who heads up the band on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, has begun work on a stage musical about the life of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. He will write the as-yet-untitled show’s music and lyrics, with John Doyle, who won a Tony for his 2005 production of Sweeney Todd, directing.
Basquiat’s younger sisters, Lisane and Jeanine, have given the production the blessing of the artist’s estate, allowing the production to use Basquiat’s artwork; when the artist’s life was brought to the silver screen in 1996 in a movie that starred Jeffrey Wright, the filmmakers had to use lookalikes made by director Julian Schnabel so they wouldn’t infringe on the estate’s copyright holdings.
“Over the years, many people have approached us about telling our brother’s story on stage,” they said in a joint statement. “But having discussed this project with [producers Alan and Barbara Marks] over many months, our interest was piqued once we understood that their approach to telling our brother’s story treats his life, his art and his legacy with respect and passion. With Jon Batiste and John Doyle leading the creative team, we are thrilled with the possibilities. We cannot wait to begin the developmental process. Broadway is a new world for us, and we are looking forward to sharing our brother’s life and art.”
Before his death at 27, Basquiat upended the New York art world with his jagged, sometimes abstract portraits of urban living, which he juxtaposed with graffiti-style words; an untitled 1982 portrait of a skull-like face fetched $110.5 million at auction last year, making it the most expensive work sold by an American artist.
Batiste, who was born two years before Basquiat’s death of a heroin overdose, said in a statement that he had drawn personal inspiration from the artist’s life – a feeling he hopes translates to audiences. “I want people to leave this show inspired to create,” he said. “I want them to not only learn about Jean-Michel Basquiat, an innovator, but to also feel the visceral thrill of the creative process and to deepen and discover their own creativity. We have an opportunity to tell a truly profound story, full of emotional highs and lows, with unbelievable art at the center. I’m honored to work with veteran storyteller John Doyle, the Marks and the Basquiat family. We are assembling a team to help craft a boundary-pushing masterpiece inspired by a true American original.”
Batiste also hinted at Basquiat’s influence on his work by using the title of one of the artist’s paintings, Hollywood Africans, for his upcoming solo album. He recorded the record, due out Friday, in New Orleans with producer T-Bone Burnett, according to Offbeat, and has called it a tribute to his musical heroes.