Charles Browning ’06 to Take the Stage in 'The Piano Lesson'

Jessie Shohfi
January 13, 2023

Alumnus Charles Browning ’06 will be taking over the role of Avery in the Broadway production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson beginning January 17. 

Originally scheduled to close in mid-January, the revival’s run has been extended by popular demand–this production is the highest grossing August Wilson play on Broadway in history, as well as the highest grossing revival of a play on Broadway. The Piano Lesson is the fourth play in the “American Century Cycle,” Wilson’s series of ten plays that chart the African American experience throughout the twentieth century. This production, the first Broadway revival of the play, is led by Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington, and Danielle Brooks. 

Browning is not the only Columbia connection to the play, as Assistant Professor Peter Jay Fernandez understudies the role of Doaker Charles, and alumnus Thomas Swayne (TM&P ’20) serves as a co-producer of the show.

“I’m beyond thrilled that my first experience as an above-the-title co-producer is on the remarkable play [The Piano Lesson],” said Swayne. 

The Piano Lesson centers on a fight between brother and sister over the destiny of the family’s prized heirloom: a piano carved with the faces of their ancestors. Boy Willie, a realist, wants to sell the piano and build up the family’s financial security. Berniece, meanwhile, is ready to fight to the end to keep their family history preserved. Their battle is mediated by their uncle, but even so, the haunting ghosts of the past won’t be kept at bay.

Browning, who has been serving as an understudy, will now play Avery, a preacher who has been attempting to court Berniece ever since her husband passed away, three years prior to the start of the play. Honest and well-intentioned, Avery is staunch in his Christian beliefs. He knows Berniece well enough to suspect that she will never sell the heirloom piano, but he offers her advice on how to best let go of her fear and her stubborn adherence to the past.

The Piano Lesson runs through January 29. Tickets are available here.

Charles Browning previously appeared on Broadway in How I Learned To Drive. He was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for his off-Broadway work, and has worked with the Classical Theater of Harlem, Classic Stage Company, Gallery Players, and more. He also appears in Hulu's Monsterland

Thomas Swayne’s previous Broadway credits include the 2022 revival of Funny Girl and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two. He is the co-producer of The Piano Lesson alongside Cynthia J. Tong. Upcoming next fall, he will be involved in the revival of Merrily We Roll Along, which is transferring to Broadway from its current sold-out run at the New York Theater Workshop with its star-studded cast.