PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Dividing the Plantation, With Scarlett Claws

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18 Jan 2013

Scarlett Johansson; guests Nick Jonas, Mamie Gummer and Grace Gummer and Paul Dano
Scarlett Johansson; guests Nick Jonas, Mamie Gummer and Grace Gummer and Paul Dano
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Meet the first-nighters at the Broadway opening of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Scarlett Johansson.

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As that old philosopher, Mel Brooks, once almost said, it's good to be the star.

How else can you account for the fast, almost turnaround revivals of Glengarry Glen Ross, which closes Jan. 20 at the Gerald Schoenfeld, and the third Broadway revival in ten years of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which opened Jan. 17 at the Richard Rodgers, other than the fact that they star Al Pacino and Scarlett Johansson, respectively, and those are the plays they felt like doing? It's like the passing of the star torch. The former "hottest ticket in town" is giving back to the new "hottest ticket in town."

With Johansson entering the playing field, "hottest" has a distinct sensual spin. Maggie the Cat is back in business in this fifth revival of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize comedy-drama, which, in the retelling, is starting to look like "The Pollitts Family Picnic." Although the angel of death hovers over the magnolia bushes to be sure, the piece has a rather buoyant, life-affirming spirit to it and always did seem like it was on the brink of breaking into song. All our old friends are waiting for us — "spastic colon," "mendacity," "poontang," "no-neck monsters" . . .

Now, in its sixth Broadway life, Cat actually has a card-carrying, Tony-winning choreographer (Thoroughly Modern Millie) and Tony-nominated musical director (How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) calling its dramatic shots.

Officially, Rob Ashford is making his play-directing Broadway debut with this production, having had some success along those lines in London — and with Williams as his guiding spirit. He directed an Olivier Award-winning Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire over there (Rachel Weisz), and then his Stella in that production turned into his Olivier Award-winning Anna Christie (Ruth Wilson).

Johansson, with a Tony of her own (for her first Broadway outing, in a featured role in 2008's A View From the Bridge), has met him on equal footing over the charged battlefield of Big Daddy Pollitt, a Mississippi mogul who has returned from the hospital to his plantation for his 65th birthday party, basking in the bogus good-news that his cancer is nothing more than a "spastic colon." But his offspring are hip to the true verdict, their metaphorical knives out to carve up the estate.

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Benjamin Walker and Scarlett Johansson
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
"Rob was also circling this project, separate from myself," Johansson remarked after the opening-night performance, "and, when we met to talk, possibly about doing it together, it was just a sort of faithful pairing, I think. We both had a very similar idea about the approach we both wanted to take so I believe that it was a good match."

She wanted to do the role the minute she read it — "I think, because I was terrified by it. I didn't know how I could do it, but I felt I maybe could have a take on it. I think when you read a piece that is that challenging, it's wise to take a crack at it, y'know."

The Southern accent came easily for her, she said, and she begins the play with it in a nonstop rant about her under-foot nieces and nephews (the aforementioned "no-neck monsters"). "We had a couple of wonderful dialect sessions. I think all of us were kinda playing off each other. Plus, the dialogue sounds better with that accent, you know what I mean?"

 



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