The legendary painter's art will be getting the Broadway treatment, in a splashy new musical

By David Canfield
September 25, 2018 at 12:02 PM EDT

Jean-Michel Basquiat is headed to Broadway.

The legendary painter’s life and art will provide the inspiration for a Broadway-bound musical, it was announced Tuesday. The production is officially in development, with the rights to Basquiat’s artwork and personal archives secured. And a talented team has already been assembled: Tony winner John Doyle (Sweeney Todd) is slated to direct, while Jon Batiste, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert bandleader and Stay Human frontman, is writing the music and lyrics.

The as-yet-untitled musical will delve into the ’80s New York City art scene, where Basquiat emerged as a singularly gifted neo-expressionist painter. Considered one of the 20th century’s most important artists, he was deeply political in his work, exploring racism, power structures, and class struggles, marrying poetry with imagery as a way of fashioning sharp social critiques. He died at the age of 27, of a heroin overdose. Since his death, his artworks have been the focus of major museum shows worldwide, also breaking auction records for the highest price paid for a work by any American artist, for an African-American artist, and for the first work created since 1980 to sell for over $100 million.

Lee Jaffe/Getty Images; Brad Barket/Getty Images

“I want people to leave this show inspired to create,” Jon Batiste said in a statement. “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 [producers Alan D. Marks and Barbara Marks], and the Basquiat family. We are assembling a team to help craft a boundary pushing masterpiece inspired by a true American original.”

Added Doyle, “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with Jon Batiste to bring to life the world of Jean-Michel Basquiat. 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.”

Working with producers, Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Basquiat are also involved in the musical’s development.  “Over the years, many people have approached us about telling our brother’s story on stage,” they said. “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. 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 looking forward to sharing our brother’s life and art.”

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