"Could I faint?" asked actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson when meeting members of the press — shortly before the Broadway bow of A Raisin in the Sun, which opened April 3 at the Barrymore Theatre. The actress, overwhelmed by her unforeseen Broadway return, had just stepped into rehearsals for Raisin; Tony winner Diahann Carroll withdrew from the production due to scheduling demands.
"First of all," she continued, "Ms. Carroll is a friend, and I spoke to her before she even came here to work on it, so I [have] mixed emotions about it. But, my God, what a great gift to even have an emotion about. I am grateful. It is beyond the imagination that I could have, without really trying, been gifted such a part. This is a role that most African-American women look at and, whether or not you covet it or want to do it or not, you have to consider it. So, I am overjoyed to be with Denzel [Washington] and this magnificent company — Sophie [Okonedo], Anika [Noni Rose], Sean [Patrick Thomas], Stephen [McKinley] Henderson — this is like a dream cast, and to be here with them is more than I could imagine."
Although Jackson couldn't imagine herself inhabiting the run-down Chicago apartment in 1959 Illinois, Tony-nominated director Kenny Leon — who made his directorial Broadway debut with the last Broadway incarnation of Raisin — believed she'd be the perfect match for Mama.
"A lot of folks don't know this," Leon confided, "but I called LaTanya ten years ago to do this role. There was another director on [the 2004 revival of] A Raisin in the Sun, initially, and they went to Phylicia Rashad to do the role, and Phylicia said, 'Oh, I'm too young to do it. I decline.' So when they brought me on to do it, they said, 'Well, Phylicia Rashad has already declined,' so I went to LaTanya, [but] LaTanya was busy. I called Phylicia personally. I said, 'You can do this play,' and then she said yeah. Phylicia ended up doing it [and] winning a Tony Award. It worked out pretty good for her.
"So when I called LaTanya last Sunday, after she couldn't catch her breath, she said, 'Thank God for second chances.' And, she had to remind me, 'We almost worked together on this ten years ago.' … She stepped in on Monday, we had a great week of rehearsal, [and] she's just killing it."