Kenny Leon teams up with Marvel stars for Puerto Rico benefit

AJC file photo: Ryon Horne

Actress Scarlett Johansson has been in Atlanta working on Marvel’s latest “Avengers” project and keeping up with the harrowing updates out of storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. It could be Christmas before power is back on throughout the island and access to a steady supply of clean drinking water is still a challenge more than a month after Hurricane Maria hit.

Johansson decided to take action, so she called her buddy Kenny Leon, the Tony Award-winning artistic director of Atlanta’s True Colors Theatre Company. After chatting initially to kick around some ideas, they got back on the phone and discovered they both had the same thing in mind: a live reading of “Our Town,” the classic 1930s play by Thornton Wilder.

“It’s a story that happens on an empty stage. It has humor in it. It has love it in,” Leon said. (Spoiler alert: there’s some sorrow, too.) “It’s really about how to value our time on the planet. How to value all lives.”

Johansson’s Marvel colleagues Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Jeremy Renner have signed on for the event, presented by the John Gore Organization and planned for 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Fox Theatre. Tickets start at $89 and are available online at or at the box office.

Proceeds benefit the Hurricane Maria Community Relief & Recovery Fund at the Center for Popular Democracy.

“I want those audience members to know this is not just doing a star-studded event. This is coming together to do something that matters,” Leon said. “As artists we’re always looking in the mirror. It’s incumbent upon us to make our world the way we want to make it.”

He’s hopeful the event will raise about $500,000, all of which will be donated, as no one is taking a paycheck for their efforts.

“Most artists I work with are in it for a deeper reason,” Leon said. “They want to make a difference in the world.”

His enormous repertoire ranges from directing the Atlanta-filmed “Steel Magnolia” remake for Lifetime in 2012, starring Queen Latifah, Alfre Woodard, Jill Scott and mom-and-daughter Phylicia and Condola Rashad, to directing live versions of “Hairspray” and “The Wiz” for NBC.

He frequently aims his talents at philanthropic goals. His annual Celebrity Golf Tournament & Gala supports True Colors’ educational programming including the National August Wilson Monologue Competition for high school students. Artists including Cedric the Entertainer, Usher, Flex Alexander and Julius “Dr. J” Erving attended this year’s gala, where Leon joined Samuel L. Jackson, Glynn Turman, Crystal Fox and Eugene Lee for a powerful reading from Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson.” It’s a format similar to the one planned for Monday.

As exciting as the all-star lineup is, Leon also wanted to salute playwright Janece Shaffer (who will serve as assistant director), plus recognize the crew, set and lighting folks, and everyone else working behind the scenes to pull it off.

“It’s a village working to make Monday night happen, to do something as an arts community,” he said. “When the world needs us, we show up.”

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