The History of Skeleton Crew

February 17, 2024

A journey from Detroit to Broadway to Kalamazoo.

Did you know the critically acclaimed and Tony-award-winning play Skeleton Crew takes place in Detroit? Explore its journey from the Motor City to off-Broadway to Broadway, and its West Michigan premiere here in Kalamazoo.

East-Side Beginnings

Born and raised in Detroit, playwright Dominique Morisseau was surrounded by the city's vibrant and complex history. As she writes in the dedication for Skeleton Crew, "This is for my untie Francine, my grandfather Pike, my cousins Michael Abney and Patti Poindexter, my Uncle Sandy, my friend David Livingston, my relative Willie Felder, and all of the UAW members and auto workers whose passion for their work inspires me. ... This is also for the politicians, financial analysts, and everday citizens who echoed the negating sentiments, 'Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.' Yep, this is for you too, damnit." Yet to bring this Motor City story to life, Morisseau would have to look to her connections in another vibrant and complex city: New York.

East Coast Residencies

Despite Morisseau's deep roots in Detroit, for Skeleton Crew the next stop on its journey to Broadway and beyond was the Lark Play Development Center, where the firs version of the play was performed in 2014. Morisseau would continue to refine the play at workshops in New York and around the country, leading up to its World Premiere in 2016 at the Atlantic Theatre Company in New York City. This initial production, which garnered praise from critics and won Morisseau and director Ruben Santiago-Hudson an Obie Award (the off-Broadway equivalent of a Tony) for their collaboration, featured original music composed by Morisseau's husband and hip-hop artist Jimmy Keys. It was quickly followed by the Michigan premiere at the Detroit Public Theatre in 2017.

The Samuel J Friedman Theatre in New York

Finally Broadway Bound

Following its premiere and subsequent notable productions, there was buzz around the play and speculation about a move to Broadway, all of which would be stymied by the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic. It speaks to the power of the excitement around Skeleton Crew that, after the disruptions to the theatre industry caused by the pandemic, Skeleton Crew was one of the first crop of plays to open on Broadway. It's limited Broadway run at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre from December of 2021 to February of 2022 marked it as one of several works by Black playwrights produced during the 21-22 Broadway season.

That production, which starred screen and stage legend Phylicia Rashad as Faye, was critically acclaimed. Nominated for dozen total Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Drama League, and Tony awards (including Best Play), Rashad went on to win both the Tony and Drama Desk awards for Best Actress in a Play.

"I soaked up ... the loving embrace of Detroit. I don't know if I learned anything about Shakespeare, but I learned a hell of a lot about the pride of my people." — Dominique Morisseau

Gripping, powerful, poetic, and funny in turns, Dominique Morisseau's Skeleton Crew asks what you do when the industry that has supported you, your family, and your entire region threatens to close up and go away? In the breakroom of the last small auto plant still standing, a makeshift family of workers swap stories, share dreams, and take pride in their work. When confronted with the possibility of the factory closing, power dynamics shift and each is pushed to the limits of survival.

Farmers Alley Theatre presents the West-Michigan Premiere of this electrifying play, directed by Dee Dee Batteast and starring Dwandra Nickole Lampkin, March 7 through 17, 2024. Buy your tickets today.