PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 30-Jan. 5: Black Cat

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 30-Jan. 5: Black Cat
 
African-American director Kenny Leon, who has staged August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry on Broadway, has complained in past interviews that, though he is well schooled in the works of Tennessee Williams, he has never been invited to direct a production of one of the great playwright's works on Broadway.
Kenny Leon
Kenny Leon Photo by Aubrey Reuben

That situation is soon to be corrected. Leon let Playbill.com know this week that he will pilot a new Broadway mounting of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof during the 2007-08 season. The real news, however, is that it will boast an all African-American cast—a concept that is bound to generate plenty of (let's hope, healthy) debate, since, though Williams' themes are fairly universal, the people who wrestle with them are from a fairly specific time and place.

The move is not without precedent. Black versions of classic works typically populated by white actors have been fairly frequent occurrences on Broadway and off over the past few decades. Past examples include a Broadway Hello, Dolly! and Guys and Dolls; a 1980 Mother Courage Off-Broadway at the Public Theater starring Gloria Foster; and a 1981 Off-Broadway Long Day's Journey Into Night, also starring Foster.

And, in fact, back in 1996 director Lloyd Richards was reported to be considering a production of Cat starring James Earl Jones as Big Daddy, Laurence Fishburne as Brick and Angela Bassett as Maggie. The project sadly never came to pass. Casting has not been announced for the new show, but Leon will doubtless round up some impressive stars. Phylicia Rashad, who starred in two Leon productions—A Raisin in the Sun and The Gem of the Ocean—is an obvious candidate for Big Mama. And Jones, after all, has recently returned to stage acting.

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Douglas Carter Beane's Broadway comedy The Little Dog Laughed got good reviews Off-Broadway and on, and star Julie White was crowned theatre royalty by the critics. But that couldn't save the show. Its producers announced that it will end its run at Broadway's Cort Theatre Feb. 18. Bad news for the future of new American comedies on Broadway. For $100 a pop, it seems, playgoers want to cry, not laugh. (Maybe if producers could find a comedy so funny that people laughed until they cried, then ticketbuyers would be satisfied.) ***

Somewhere in the past few years, Craig Lucas became a Broadway playwright. The Light in the Piazza, for which he wrote the book, was a hit at Lincoln Center. His early work, Reckless, was revived by Manhattan Theatre Club at the Biltmore. And now the Roundabout Theatre Company is bringing back Prelude to a Kiss at the American Airlines Theatre. (The play, for the record, was Lucas' only Broadway credit as a writer previous to the current spate.)

He'll have a great cast. John Mahoney will play the Old Man, Annie Parisse is Rita, Alan Tudyk is Peter and Robin Bartlett is Mrs. Boyle. Previews begin Feb. 16.

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Nathan Lane held on to his status as Mr. Bankable. Despite lukewarm reviews, the revival of Simon Gray's Butley starring Lane recouped its initial investment of $2.25 million.

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Finally, Vincent Sardi, Jr., the son of Vincent Sardi, Sr., who founded the most famous theatrical chow house in Broadway history, died Jan. 4 at the age of 91. He ran the eatery, a meeting place and home away from home for generations of show folk, for half a century, making the vertical, green neon sign outside the building as important as any marquee on Broadway.

(Robert Simonson is Playbill.com's senior correspondent. He can be reached at rsimonson@playbill.com.)

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