Jones and Uggams Face Facts of Family Life in Broadway Return of On Golden Pond

News   Jones and Uggams Face Facts of Family Life in Broadway Return of On Golden Pond
The new Helen Hayes Award-nominated staging of On Golden Pond opens on Broadway April 7 at the Cort Theatre, where James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage after 18 years away.
Leslie Uggams in On Golden Pond
Leslie Uggams in On Golden Pond Photo by Joan Marcus

The Leonard Foglia-directed revival of the warm Ernest Thompson play about retirees facing the sunset of their lives at their Maine summer house — and navigating tensions with their daughter — earned solid reviews in 2004, when it played engagements at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. and the DuPont Theatre Wilmington, DE. It was nominated for four 2004-05 Helen Hayes Awards for its D.C. run.

The play first appeared on Broadway in 1979, with Frances Sternhagen and Tom Aldredge in roles that would be associated with Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, who starred in the film.

The 2004 cast from D.C. gathered again for Broadway, with Tony Award-winner Jones playing retired professor Norman Thayer, Tony-winner Leslie Uggams (Hallelujah, Baby! ) as wife Ethel, Linda Powell (former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's daughter and a veteran of Off-Broadway's Omnium Gatherum and Jar the Floor) as daughter Chelsea, Peter Francis James (Drowning Crow on Broadway, and the world premiere of Gem of the Ocean ) as fiance Bill, Craig Bockhorn (Prelude to a Kiss ) as mailman Charlie and Alexander Mitchell (Broadway's A Raisin in the Sun ) as Bill's young son, Billy.

Previews began at the Cort, 138 W. 48th Street, on March 22.

According to the producers, "Mr. Jones and Ms. Uggams co-star as the lovable curmudgeon Norman and his spirited wife, Ethel —a couple whose final summer at their lakeside cottage in Maine is interrupted by the arrival of their estranged daughter and her fiancé's young son. On Golden Pond is a heartwarming and hilarious celebration of the everyday struggles and ultimate triumphs of life, love and family." This is Jones' return to the Broadway stage after an 18-year absence, when he won the Tony Award for Fences in 1987. A famed voiceover actor ( for Verizon, lately), he is also the voice of Darth Vader in the "Star Wars" films. His Broadway and film triumph came in The Great White Hope.

This is the first major U.S. production to feature African-American performers playing the family and extended family of the play (representing a majority of the characters in the work; mailman Charlie is the outsider). Thompson revised his script for the staging, although specific black culture references were not added to the tale, director Foglia (Master Class) told

"He didn't rewrite it for a black cast," Foglia said. "But we are. That was the discussion [in rehearsal]: what it meant to be an African-American family in this community. What does that mean? One of the decisions I made early on was to cast Charlie the mailman white. That will be the visual touchstone to tell the audience this is a black family in this community; and it's not a black production of the play. We certainly discussed a lot about African-American families, them in this community, him being a professor and what that means. There are certain things that fall into place just beautifully and certainly went into a lot of our work. How much of it comes through, I don't know. Ultimately, it's just about a family. But we didn't shy away from it in our own discussions."

Foglia called the popular play "a wonderful portrait of how difficult it is to be a family, coupled with getting old and all of those things that go along with it. It's also wildly universal: It's how difficult it is to be a child, how difficult it is to be a parent, how hard it is to reconcile growing old — and how so many of us end up not resolving these things before our parents move on."

Of the changes to the script, Foglia said, "We were able to benefit from all the years this play has been done and [Thompson's] knowledge of that. Also, the fact that it's been adapted to different mediums, and in adapting, certain things got collapsed or changed a little bit, or added here and there. He not only allowed but encouraged us to utilize that knowledge. The play is probably 20 minutes shorter than the original. Early on, before we all started, he said when he was young and writing this he suffered from what a lot of young writers think: That everything needs to be said, everything needs to be explained. We definitely trimmed the play down to the meat of play. And there were moments that have been added, that have been alluded to in other versions. It's kind of a distillation of the original play, plus moments from other adaptations that he's done. We started treating it, in a way, like a new play, primarily because Ernest encouraged that."

The production's Helen Hayes nominations include Outstanding Non-Resident Production; Outstanding Lead Actor, James Earl Jones; Outstanding Lead Actress, Leslie Uggams; and Outstanding Supporting Performer, Craig Bockhorn.

The production features set design by Ray Klausen, costume design by Jane Greenwood, lighting design by Brian Nason and sound design and original music by Dan Moses Schreier.

On Golden Pond had its Broadway premiere, starring Tom Aldredge and Frances Sternhagen, at The New Apollo Theatre on Feb. 28, 1979. (Take a look at the original 1979 playbill in the Playbill Archives feature.) The acclaimed 1981 film starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn and Jane Fonda won three 1982 Academy Awards: for Henry Fonda, Hepburn and Ernest Thompson for the screenplay he adapted from his own play.

Producers of the Broadway staging are Jeffrey Finn, Arlene Scanlan and Stuart Thompson.

The performance schedule for On Golden Pond will be Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 PM with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Beginning April 19, Tuesday evenings will be at 7 PM.

To purchase tickets ($41.25-$91.25), go online at, call (212) 239-6200 or visit The Cort Theatre box office (138 West 48th Street).


This new production premiered at The Kennedy Center (Sept. 28-Oct. 17, 2004), followed by an engagement at The DuPont Theatre in Wilmington (Oct. 22-31, 2004). The producers note "this path ironically followed the original 1979 production's pre-Broadway journey from The Kennedy Center to The DuPont (then named The Playhouse) before opening on Broadway."

The show's official website is

James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams in <i>On Golden Pond</i>
James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams in On Golden Pond Photo by Joan Marcus
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