Kenny Leon
Born (1956-02-10) February 10, 1956 (age 68)[1]
Alma materClark Atlanta University
Occupation(s)Director, producer, actor

Kenny Leon is an American director and producer. He is notable for his extensive work on Broadway, on television, and in regional theater. He has received a Tony Award and a Drama League Award as well as nominations for three Primetime Emmy Awards and a Drama Desk Award.

Leon won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for A Raisin in the Sun (2014).[2] He was Tony-nominated for Fences (2010) and A Soldier's Play (2019). He has also directed notable productions of Radio Golf (2007), Topdog/Underdog (2022) and Purlie Victorious (2023). He received Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Hairspray Live! (2017), American Son (2019), and Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia (2021).

Early life and education

Leon participated in the federally funded TRIO Upward Bound college-prep program while in high school. He is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University.


He gained prominence in 1990, when he became one of the few African Americans to head a notable nonprofit theater company as the artistic director of Atlanta's Alliance Theatre Company.[3] During Leon's tenure, the company staged premieres of Pearl Cleage's Blues for an Alabama Sky, Alfred Uhry's The Last Night of Ballyhoo, and Elton John and Tim Rice's musical Aida, which went on to Broadway. The Alliance's endowment also rose from $1 to $5 million during his time there.

Leon resigned from the Alliance in 2000 to take on other projects. These included being the co-founder and artistic director of True Colors Theatre Company,[4] a group based in both Atlanta and Washington, D.C. He also took his talents to Broadway. In the spring of 2004, he directed a revival of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald, in his Broadway debut. At the end of that year, he directed the Broadway premiere of August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean. In 2005, he directed Margaret Garner, an opera by Richard Danielpour with a libretto by Toni Morrison. In spring 2007, he directed August Wilson's Radio Golf. All three plays were nominated for Tony Awards, and Leon was a Drama Desk Award nominee for A Raisin in the Sun. He also directed the television version of A Raisin in the Sun, which aired on ABC in February 2008. He was nominated for a Tony Award in 2010 for Best Director for his work on August Wilson's Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, earning them both nominations and wins for Best Actor and Actress in a Play.

In November 2010, Leon directed Phylicia Rashad in the world premiere stage play Every Tongue Confess written by Marcus Gardley, which ran at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Leon has also directed plays at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and other venues. In January 2012, he completed a Lifetime Original Television remake of Steel Magnolias.[1] Other projects at that time included the world premiere of a staged adaptation of the 1967 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at the Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre Company; and a musical inspired by the work of rapper Tupac Shakur.[5]

In 2014, he directed the Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun starring Denzel Washington and LaTanya Richardson Jackson and the Broadway premiere of the musical Holler If Ya Hear Me, featuring the discography of Tupac Shakur. A Raisin in the Sun earned Leon a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play.[6] That same year Leon directed NPR Presents Water±, written by award-winning NPR Science Correspondent Christopher Joyce, and award-winning theater writers Arthur Yorinks and Carl Hancock Rux, with an original sound score by violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR). The show toured nationally, co-hosted by NPR's Michele Norris and WWNO's Eve Troeh and featuring Tony Award-winner Anika Noni Rose (Caroline, or Change); Tony Award-nominee Michele Shay (August Wilson's Seven Guitars); Jason Dirden (Tony Award-winning production A Raisin in the Sun); and Lucas Caleb Rooney (Boardwalk Empire).[7]

In 2015, Leon directed the live musical The Wiz for NBC. Cirque du Soleil partnered on the production with plans to bring the show to Broadway. He was slated to direct both the television production and the planned Broadway revival.[8] In 2016, Leon once again partnered with NBC for Hairspray Live!, starring Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Kristin Chenoweth, and Harvey Fierstein.[9]

In addition to his directing experience, he has extensive acting experience on stage and in television and film. He made an appearance in the Hollywood Black Film Festival winner Big Ain't Bad, playing the role of Thomas Jordan, the mayor of Atlanta. His memoir, Take You Wherever You Go, was released in June, 2018, by Grand Central Publishing. The title derives advice he received from his grandmother, Mamie Wilson. Leon directed the 2019 Netflix film American Son, based on the play of the same name which he had directed on stage.

In 2019, he directed the Broadway premiere of Charles Fuller's Pulitzer Prize winning play, A Soldier's Play, starring Blair Underwood and David Alan Grier at Roundabout Theatre Company. He also directed The Underlying Chris at Second Stage Theatre Company and summer 2019's acclaimed production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Delacorte/Shakespeare in the Park. In May 2022, the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta debuted Trading Places: The Musical! directed by Leon.[10]



As a director

Year Title Notes
2002 Nowhere Road
2008 A Raisin in the Sun Television movie
2009 Ghost Whisperer Episode: "Excessive Forces"
2010–11 Private Practice 2 episodes
2012 Steel Magnolias Television movie
2013 The Watsons Go to Birmingham Television movie
2014 In My Dreams Television movie
2015 The Wiz Live! Television special
2016 Hairspray Live! Television special
2018–21 Dynasty 6 episodes
2019 Ambitions 2 episodes
2019 American Son Television movie
2021 Amend: The Fight for America 6 episodes
2021 Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia Television movie
2021 Colin in Black & White Episode: "Dear Colin"
2021 Gossip Girl Episode: "Posts on a Scandal"
2021 4400 Episode: "Empowered Women"

As an actor

Year Title Role Notes
1988 Case Closed Man in Alley Television movie
1990 Web of Deceit Dr. Poole Television movie
1990–91 In the Heat of the Night Thomas/Daryl 2 episode
1992 The Nightman Johnson Television movie
1992 In the Line of Duty: Street War Raheem Television movie
1993 I'll Fly Away: Then and Now Arthur Television movie
2002 The Rosa Parks Story Minister #2 Television movie
2002 Big Ain't Bad Mayor Jordan
2012 Kasha and the Zulu King Kasha Television movie
2021 Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia Professor Kendricks Television movie


As a director

Year Title Venue Ref.
2004 A Raisin in the Sun Royale Theatre, Broadway
2004 Gem of the Ocean Walter Kerr Theatre, Broadway
2005 Margaret Garner Michigan Opera Theatre, Detroit
2005 Tambourines to Glory Lincoln Center, Washington D.C.
2007 Radio Golf Cort Theatre, Broadway
2010 Fences Cort Theatre, Broadway
2011 The Mountaintop Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, Broadway
2011 Stick Fly Cort Theatre, Broadway
2014 A Raisin in the Sun Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Broadway
2014 Holler If Ya Hear Me Palace Theatre, Broadway
2016 Smart People Second Stage Theatre, Off-Broadway
2018 Children of a Lesser God Studio 54, Broadway
2018 American Son Booth Theatre, Broadway [11]
2019 Much Ado About Nothing Delacorte Theatre, Off-Broadway
2019 The Underlying Chris Second Stage Theatre, Off-Broadway
2019–20 A Soldier's Play American Airlines Theatre, Broadway
2022 King James Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
2022 Trading Places: The Musical! Alliance Theatre, Atlanta [12]
2022 Topdog/Underdog Golden Theatre, Broadway
2022 Ohio State Murders James Earl Jones Theatre, Broadway [13]
2023 Purlie Victorious Music Box Theatre, Broadway
2024 Home Todd Haimes Theatre, Broadway [14]
2024 Our Town Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Broadway [15]
2025 Othello TBA, Broadway [16]

Reception and honors

In 2004, People named him one of the "50 Most Beautiful People" of the year. In 2007, he was a recipient of the 2007 Georgia Arts and Entertainment Legacy Award for his contributions to Georgia's cultural legacy.[17] In 2010, Leon won the Drama League Award for Excellence in Directing for the play Fences. In 2014 he won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for A Raisin in the Sun.[18]

Leon was awarded the 2016-2017 "Mr. Abbott" Award for outstanding artistry and creativity, which is presented by the Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC) Foundation, in recognition for his over 40-year career. In October 2017, Leon was the recipient the Governor's Award for the Arts and Humanities for the State of Georgia.[19]

He held the Denzel Washington Endowed Chair in Theatre at Fordham University, previously held by Joe Morton and Phylicia Rashad.[20]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Project Result Ref.
2004 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Play A Raisin in the Sun Nominated [21]
2005 Helen Hayes Award Outstanding Director Tambourines to Glory Nominated
2009 Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Direction of Play Fences Nominated
2010 Drama League Award Excellence in Directing Won
2010 Tony Awards Best Direction of a Play Nominated
2014 A Raisin in the Sun Won
2017 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Special Class Program Hairspray Live! Nominated [22]
2018 Drama League Award Outstanding Direction of Play Children of a Lesser God Nominated [21]
2020 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Television Movie American Son Nominated [22]
2020 Tony Awards Best Direction of a Play A Soldier's Play Nominated [21]
2021 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Television Movie Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia Nominated [22]


  1. ^ a b Brock, Wendell (January 2012). "Leon Takes the Lead". Jezebel Magazine. p. 48. 'It doesn't get better than that...' says the Tallahassee, Fla., native who turns 56 in February.
  2. ^ Search Past Winners. History. Tony Awards. Archived 2016-08-31 at the Wayback Machine t IBM Corp., Tony Award Productions 2000, 2015. Retrieved November 29, 2015
  3. ^ "Honorary Planetary Citizen of the Month". Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  4. ^ "Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre". Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  5. ^ Simi Horwitz, "Interview - Director Kenny Leon Juggles 'Dinner,' 'Steel Magnolias,' and Tupac Musical", Backstage, April 11, 2012.
  6. ^ ""A RAISIN IN THE SUN's Kenny Leon Wins Tony for Best Direction of a Play", "", June 8, 2014". Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  7. ^ Leon, Kenny (25 November 2014). "NPR Presents Water±". Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  8. ^ ""'The Wiz' Set as NBC's Next Live Musical", "Hollywood Reporter", March 30, 2015". 30 March 2015. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  9. ^ Firestone, Lonnie (6 December 2016). "Hairspray Live Is Figuring Out How to Perfect the Live Musical". HWD. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  10. ^ "Alliance's "Trading Places" musical trades some dated plotlines for inclusiveness". June 2022.
  11. ^ Libbey, Peter (8 June 2018). "Kerry Washington Is Going From the Beltway to Broadway". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  12. ^ (June 1, 2022)
  13. ^ Green, Jesse (8 December 2022). "Review: Who Committed the 'Ohio State Murders'? Who Didn't?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2022-12-14.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Denzel Washington and Jake Gyllenhaal to Lead Broadway 'Othello'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2024.
  17. ^ "Honoree Kenny Leon".
  18. ^ ""A RAISIN IN THE SUN's Kenny Leon Wins Tony for Best Direction of a Play", "", June 8, 2014". Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  19. ^ "Georgia Council for the Arts - Governor's Awards for the Arts and Humanities". Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  20. ^ "Going Universal with Kenny Leon, New Denzel Washington Chair". Fordham Newsroom. 8 September 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  21. ^ a b c "Kenny Leon". Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  22. ^ a b c "Kenny Leon". Television Academy. Retrieved 2024-04-01.