So a few years ago, two to be exact, I went to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway, starring James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Terrance Howard and Anika Noni Rose! And ever since, I've been jonesing (no pun intended!) for the opportunity to see it again on London's West End this time with Mr. Jones and Ms. Rashad along with Sanaa Lathan and Adrian Lester! Well, I'm about ready to make that happen.. but it reminded me of the review I wrote when I saw it back in 2008! Check it out...
Broadway Shines Bright with HU Alums Debbie Allen & Phylicia Rashad
in Tennessee Williams’ Classic
To witness “Black theatre” royalty, live and in full color, on the main stage is always a touching experience; but to watch a stellar African-American cast on Broadway breathing life into the embittered characters of the Tennessee Williams classic, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, is to witness Black history unfold in real time. On Sunday March 2, 2008, the Howard University Alumni Club – NYC collectively witnessed the first ever all-African-American cast of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at the Broadhurst Theater. The historic performance casted incomparable thespians James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad as the larger-than-life tycoon, Big Daddy Pollitt, and the robust matriarch of the family, Big Momma. Film star Terrance Howard made his Broadway debut as their troubled alcoholic of a son, Brick, while Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose played his hot-blooded, gold-digging wife, Maggie The Cat. Directed by iconic entertainer, Debbie Allen, the production also included Giancarlo Espocito as the elder son, Gooper; Lisa Arrindell Anderson as his wife, Mae who is expecting for the sixth time; Lou Myers (known for his Mr. Gaines character in the hit television series A Different World) as the Reverend Tooker; and Count Stovall as Doctor Baugh. Also marking her Broadway debut was the daughter of Terrance Howard, Heaven, as ill-behaved Dixie, the eldest daughter of Gooper.
The play’s central theme is “mendacity”, a word Brick uses to describe his disgust with the world and thus validation for his worsening drinking condition. In that underlying mendacity, deceit is shown in intricate layers through the family’s decaying Southern traditions as each member spins rumors and lies into some form of truth in their own twisted reality. The play alludes to the presence of homosexuality in Southern society at a time when no such thing would be considered acceptable or justifiable, and puts a spotlight on the complicated rules of social conduct between male friendships in this culture. It is through this complex and emotionally charged setting that we’re able to bear witness to the seeming joys, gripping tragedy and overall longsuffering of this family.
A Stephen C. Byrd and Front Row Productions, in association with Alia M. Jones, Walk Tall Girl Productions and AKILA WORKSONGS, Inc., founded by HU alumnus April Silver, the cast was gracious enough entertain the HUAC NYC group with an exclusive Talk Back session hosted by Fine Arts alum Mo Beasley. During the lively discussion, Bison audience members delved into the serious themes of the play as it relates to today’s young women, as well as tolerance to homosexuality. All of the cast members along with Ms. Allen were fervent to shed light on the idea of tolerance and longsuffering as depicted by the patriarch of the Pollitt family to his son, Brick. Ms. Rashad poignantly added that serious character analyses would benefit the young women of the audience to help them understand that there is more to the measure of person than being a fragment of one’s self in the shadow of another. The actress, beloved for portraying Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show, added that this is the first time she’s played such an emotionally fragile character as Big Momma Pollitt.