The Tragic Life Story of Jean-Michel Basquiat Is Going to Become a Major Broadway Musical

The play will feature a Tony-winning director and producers.

Edo Bertoglio, Jean-Michel Basquiat on the set of Downtown 81, 1980–81, © New York Beat Film LLC, By permission of The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York, Photo: Edo Bertoglio.

The life and career of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) will soon be immortalized in song. The late artist’s estate has green-lit plans for an original Broadway musical from veteran producers Alan D. Marks and Barbara Marks inspired by his life and art.

The production will trace Basquiat’s rapid rise from a street artist who tagged derelict buildings on the Lower East Side with poetic graffiti signed SAMO to a sought-after painter who became famous against the backdrop of New York’s fast-growing art scene in the late 1970s and ’80s. The artist died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27.

“Over the years, many people have approached us about telling our brother’s story on stage. But having discussed this project with the 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,” said the artist’s sisters, Lisane and Jeanine Basquiat, in a statement. “We cannot wait to begin the developmental process. Broadway is a new world for us, and we looking forward to sharing our brother’s life and art.”

The production will have access to both Jean-Michel’s art and personal archives (which is likely to make for some pretty extraordinary sets). It will feature music and lyrics by Jon Batiste, the bandleader and musical director of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and be directed by the Tony Award winner John Doyle, who was behind celebrated productions of Sweeney Todd, The Color Purple, and Company.

“Exploring his 1980s New York City will help us access the connections Basquiat made through the extraordinary body of work he created in his short lifetime,” Doyle said.

Basquiat’s dramatic life story seems almost tailor-made for the stage. (He has already been the subject of several films, including painter and director Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat (1996), starring Jeffrey Wright in the title role.) Despite working for just one decade, the artist managed to become one of the 20th century’s most influential artists, creating a unique style that incorporated the written word into boldly colorful compositions.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Multiflavors (1982). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd., 2018.

“I want people to leave this show inspired to create. 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,” Batiste said in a statement. “We have an opportunity to tell a truly profound story, full of emotional highs and lows, with unbelievable art at the center.”

As Broadway ticket sales surge, Basquiat isn’t the only show about a painter headed to the Great White Way. Lempicka, a production that traces the sensational life of the Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka, is destined for Broadway after its run at the Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Marks’s Broadway credits include Dear Evan Hansen, which won the 2017 Tony for best musical.

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