Thursday, March 06, 2008

Opening Night: Cat Begins Fifth Life On Broadway

Opening Night: Cat Begins Fifth Life On Broadway

This evening, the fourth Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' classic Cat On A Hot Tin Roof opens at the Broadhurst Theatre. The original, Tony-nominated 1955 production earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Proving there is more than one ducking way to skin Williams' rutting Cat, director Debbie Allen is infusing this production with some of the playwright's intended language. But the bigger news perhaps is that this particular incarnation of the show made it here at all, given all the lives it has had, giving it a backstory worthy of the drama itself.

Even though Cat On A Hot Tin Roof was last produced on the Great White Way a scant four years ago, this all African-American cast is about as stellar as can be. As Brick, acclaimed film actor Terrence Howard is treading Broadway's boards for the very first time, alongside three Tony Award-winning actors: Anika Noni Rose (Caroline, Or Change) as Maggie, Phylicia Rashad (A Raisin in the Sun) as Big Mama and the voice of CNN and Darth Vader himself James Earl Jones (Fences).

When Cat On A Hot Tin Roof first debuted in 1955 under the direction of Elia Kazan, the production caused a sensation in its depiction of a Southern family's attempt to cope with one spouse's latent homosexuality. All in all, the production would play 694 performances and score four Tony nominations. The cast included Ben Gazzara as Brick, Barbara Bel Geddes as Maggie, Mildred Dunnock as Big Mama and Burl Ives as Big Daddy.

It took nearly twenty years before the first Broadway revival was staged, but in 1974, Michael Kahn directed Keir Dullea as Brick, Elizabeth Ashley as Maggie, Kate Reid as Big Mama and Fred Gwynne (television's Herman Munster) as Big Daddy. This Cat lived 160 performances and earned Ashley a Tony nomination.

The third Broadway production of Cat came in 1990 with the 149 performance run directed by Howard Davies. It would also be the only one to win a Tony -- for Charles Durning's celebrated turn as Big Daddy, alongside Daniel Hugh Kelly's Brick, Kathleen Turner's Maggie and Polly Holliday's Big Mama. All totaled, the production earned three Tony nominations.

My first kick at the Cat was through the 2003 revival when I caught the final preview. In the scene where Big Daddy (Ned Beatty) is receiving his gift and asks "What's this?" A giddy voice came from somewhere near the front of the audience screaming enthusiastically, "Kitties!" I kid you not! Fortunately for the audience, Beatty and the rest of the cast -- including Jason Patric (Brick), Ashley Judd (Maggie) and the breathtaking Margo Martindale -- maintained their composure and didn't skip a beat. Yet it only earned one Tony nomination, running for 145 performances.

So will critics think that this all-star Cat has a life? Find out tomorrow as I share my critics' capsule (I'll be seeing the show myself a little later this month).

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
The Onion: Ask The Stage Directions To Tennessee Williams' Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (February 11, 2008)
Black Cat Has More Than One Life (April 11, 2008)

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At 06 March, 2008, Blogger SarahB said...

Last night while I was waiting to go into the Helen Hayes, I watched the audience slowly file in to the Broadhurst. Everybody seemed so excited. I know at least two people who have seen it and loved it.

At 06 March, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...


After initially being a hold out on seeing the film "Hustle & Flow," I now can't say enough great things about that movie and Howard's sterling performance. I'm quite excited about the prospect of seeing all these outstanding actors together in one place.

Also, I was thinking of you when I wrote the little bit on the person yelling, "Kitties." Not so much because you would ever do anything of the sort, but because it's the type of thing that you seem to see when you go to a show.

Cheers, Steve

At 06 March, 2008, Blogger Mondschein said...

Ashley Judd and Jason Patric were both breathtakingly beautiful in the 2003 revival, but I must say that the Manolo Blahnicks she wore do not a "cat" make. He fared far worse - - totally unintelligible on every line he attempted to deliver. Mr. Beaty walked away with that production with a most excellent performance.

I was a bit underwhelmed about this revival when it was announced, but the bits and pieces I hear and read about it are starting to draw my attention.

At 06 March, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Mondschein, You hit the nail on the head perfectly with respect to the last revival.

But I particularly loved Margo Martindale, who was quite a revelation. Wish she'd come back to the Broadway stage more often.

At 06 March, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In defense of that enthusiastic "cat" call, I too happened to be there at that performance.

I can hardly describe it as enthusiastic. Perhaps an excited whimper, or whimsical but low volume exclamation to the person they were sitting next to.

I think that when asked what the most memorable weird or strange thing which happened during a performance, those talented actors, would not recall the Kitties interjection from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Perhaps it was their cell phone going off with the new "Kitties" ring tone. These incidents are inappropriate behavior. While it may be wrong, I am sure that it is the dog that made em' do it. "It was just a cat and mouse act."

At 06 March, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous, I'm glad that the cat didn't get your tongue, but wonder how many people wish it did during that fateful performance.


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