This new production of the 1955 Tennessee Williams classic is being presented by Tin Cat Productions and produced by Stephen Byrd. Cast and creative team will be announced soon. Opening is set for March 6, 2008.
"Hypocrisy, greed and secret passions threaten to tear apart a wealthy but dysfunctional Mississippi family in Tennessee Williams' stunning American masterpiece," according to the producers. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof searingly portrays the larger-than-life characters of Maggie the Cat, her alcoholic husband, Brick, and the dominating family patriarch, Big Daddy."
The play has been revived on Broadway several times, but this will be the first African-American-cast staging approved for Broadway by the Williams estate.
African-American actors appeared in at least one revival of the play — in 1999 at TheatreViriginia.
Producer Stephen Byrd said in a statement, "I am so proud to be able to bring this amazing story back to the Broadway stage. I have been on a 12-year journey with this vision of an African-American version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and am ecstatic that Ms. Debbie Allen will helm this production. It will truly be a historic presentation of a classic piece of theatre." Allen stated, "I am thrilled to stand at the helm of this unique production as we navigate our way through Tennessee Williams' riveting and explosive American classic. Cat, said to be his favorite of his many plays, achieves a timeless coherence with its characters as they wrestle with the universal struggles of life, love, money, sex and death."
Allen, a respected director and choreographer, is widely known for her role as Lydia Grant in the hit TV series "Fame." She made her Broadway debut in the chorus of Purlie. She created the role of Beneatha in the Tony Award-winning musical Raisin, and in the 1979 definitive revival of West Side Story she received the Drama Desk Award, as well as her first Tony Award nomination, for playing Anita. Allen received her second Tony Award nomination in 1986 for her performance in the title role of Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity.
In 2001 Allen fulfilled a lifelong dream by opening the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles.
The most recent Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starred Ashley Judd, Jason Patric and Ned Beatty in 2003. A 1990 revival starred Kathleen Turner, Daniel Hugh Kelly and Charles Durning, and a 1974 revival starred Elizabeth Ashley, Keir Dullea and Fred Gwynne. The original 1955 production starred Barbara Bel Geddes, Ben Gazzara and Burl Ives and was staged by Elia Kazan.
There is a precedent for an African-American take on Williams' Deep South-set classic soap opera about greed and lies. In 1999, TheatreVirginia staged such a production, with Tamara Tunie ("As the World Turns," Broadway's Julius Caesar) as Maggie. It was thought to be the first professional African-American-cast staging of the play. Kent Gash directed the Richmond, VA, production.
The idea of a Broadway African-American cast for the play about a wealthy but dysfunctional Southern family has been around for several years. Director Lloyd Richards (Fences) expressed a hope to stage the sex-and-lies-fraught play with James Earl Jones as Big Daddy, but plans never materialized.
"A lot of people are going to think the show is rewritten (to fit this cast)," TheatreVirginia's George Black told Playbill.com in 1999, noting that Williams' scripted language is drenched in a Mississippi Delta cadence so associated with African-Americans.
Director Gash said the non-traditional casting would not be anachronistic: He said there were indeed rich, land-owning African-Americans in the South in the 1950s, the milieu of the drama.
"It's not my intent to change any of the language of the play," Gash said. "There certainly won't be 'rewrites.' All the issues of the play take on a different resonance in the African-American [context]. When Big Daddy says he got [rich] by 'working like a n----- in the field,' it will really be felt."
Artistic director Black did note, however, that a reference to leading-character Brick playing football at the University of Mississippi, a school not yet integrated in the 1950s, posed a challenge. Brick referred to "Old Miss" as "college."
In 1999, Rodney Scott Hudson played Big Daddy, Lynda Gravatt was Big Mama, Thomas Corey Robinson was Brick, Gail Grate (Public Theater's 1998 Pericles) was Mae and Grate's husband, Terry Alexander (Lincoln Center Theater's Streamers) was Gooper.