James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams Open in On Golden Pond Oct. 2

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02 Oct 2004

James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams open in a new revival of Ernest Thompson's On Golden Pond Oct. 2 at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theatre.

The play with a title that suggests sunsets, loons heading south and bucolic calm began a fresh run in Washington, D.C. Sept. 28, with Tony Award winners Jones and Uggams as retirees Norman and Ethel Thayer.

Uggams stepped into rehearsals six days before the first preview to take the place of Diahann Carroll, who was suffering from a back injury.

Performances play the Kennedy Center to Oct. 17. The fall presentation was originally announced as a staged reading, but the run blossomed into a full staging.

Leonard Foglia (Master Class) directs the Jeffrey Finn Productions presentation, with a cast that also includes Linda Powell, Peter Francis James, Craig Bockhorn and Alexander Mitchell.



There is speculation that if Pond is golden with critics — and if its stars wish to make a commitment — the production could be seen elsewhere.

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Uggams won the Tony for Leading Actress in a Musical for Hallelujah, Baby! and received a second nomination for her performance in August Wilson's King Hedley II, which also played at The Kennedy Center prior to Broadway. She most recently appeared on Broadway as Muzzy Van Hossmere in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

"We are extremely fortunate that Leslie Uggams has agreed to step in with such short notice," said producer Finn. "James Earl Jones, our director Leonard Foglia and our entire company are devoted to this production and enthusiastically welcome Ms. Uggams."

The play concerns a daughter and father — Chelsea and Norman — clashing at the family's Maine summer cottage as signs of his deteriorating mind are starting to show. Norman's wife, Ethel, tries to mediate, and stands by her "knight in shining armor" — a line made famous by Katharine Hepburn in the film version.

Actress Powell (who plays Chelsea) is the daughter of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

James, seen last season in Drowing Crow at the Biltmore Theatre and as Caeser in the world premiere of Gem of the Ocean, is Chelsea's new beau.

Bockhorn (Broadway's Prelude to a Kiss, The Lonesome West) is Maine local Charlie. Alexander Mitchell, who was Travis in the recent A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway, will play Bill's rebellious young son, Billy.

The bond between Norman and Billy prompts Chelsea to face past, buried issues with her father.

Tony Award-winner Jones (Fences, The Great White Hope) is playing older than usual: Norman is a 79 year-old former professor. Jones' varied film, TV and stage career includes work as the voice of Darth Vader in the "Star Wars" series. He is widely seen as a spokesman for Verizon.

Thompson's play had its Broadway premiere in a Hudson Guild Theatre staging in 1979 at the New Apollo Theatre (it moved there from Off-Broadway, where it premiered in fall 1978). Frances Sternhagen was Tony Award nominated for playing Ethel opposite Tom Aldredge. Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn played the roles on film, both snagging Oscars. In a recent live TV staging, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer played the roles.

On Golden Pond's designers will be Ray Klausen (set), Jane Greenwood (costumes), Brian Nason (lighting) and Dan Moses Schreier (sound and original music).

The performance schedule for On Golden Pond will be Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 PM and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 PM & 8 PM.

For tickets ($25-$78) and information, call Instant-Charge at (800) 444-1324 or visit The Kennedy Center at www.kennedy-center.org.

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The acclaimed 1981 film version of the play also starred Jane Fonda and Dabney Coleman as Chelsea and Bill, and was nominated for nine 1982 Academy Awards, winning three — for Henry Fonda, Hepburn and author Ernest Thompson (who adapted the screenplay). For his screenplay, Thompson also won Golden Globe and Writers Guild of America awards.