Jones, Rose, Rashad, Howard Star in New Broadway Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

News   Jones, Rose, Rashad, Howard Star in New Broadway Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
History gets made Feb. 12 when, for the first time on Broadway, an African-American cast bites into Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams' Southern-fried feast of family greed, lies and sexual tension.
Photo by Albert Watson

The 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning Mississippi-set tale — no longer set in the 1950s, but hinting at the past 15 years or so — is directed by Debbie Allen, whose cast includes James Earl Jones as Big Daddy, the dying patriarch of the Pollitt family, whose cotton-crop fortune is up for grabs; film actor Terrence Howard, making his Broadway debut as Brick, the favored ex-jock son who is now a heap of booze and regret (and repressed homosexuality), unable to give his voracious wife, Maggie (Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose) a child; Phylicia Rashad as Big Mama, facing the loss of her man; Giancarlo Esposito as Gooper, the son whose greatest asset may be the children — also known as "no-neck monsters" — he and his wife, Mae (Lisa Arrindell-Anderson), have been able to produce.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is aiming for a March 6 opening at the Broadhurst Theatre. Tickets for the "strictly limited engagement" are on sale through April 13, but it's not hard to guess that an extension will be announced for this high-profile staging.

The company also includes Lou Myers as Rev. Tooker, Count Stovall as Doctor Baugh, Skye Jasmine Allen-McBean as Sonny, Marja Harmon as Sookey, Heaven Howard as Dixie, Marissa Chisolm as Trixie and Clark Jackson as Lacey with Bethany Butler, Robert Riley and Jane White.

This will be the first time an African-American cast appears in the Williams play on Broadway, although there is a regional-theatre precedent for the casting conceit. African-American actors appeared in at least one revival of the play — in 1999 at TheatreVirginia.

Allen previously stated, "I am thrilled to stand at the helm of this unique production as we navigate our way through Tennessee Williams' riveting and explosive American classic. Cat, said to be his favorite of his many plays, achieves a timeless coherence with its characters as they wrestle with the universal struggles of life, love, money, sex and death." The Cat on a Hot Tin Roof design team includes Ray Klausen (sets), William H. Grant III (lights), John H. Shivers (sound), Jane Greenwood (costumes) and Charles G. LaPointe (hair). Production stage manager is Gwendolyn M. Gilliam.

Original music is by Andrew "Tex" Allen. Saxophone player is Gerald Hayes.

Cat is being presented by Front Row Productions and Stephen C. Byrd in association with Alia M. Jones. Byrd stated, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has been revived on Broadway four times before; this production marks the first African-American production approved by the Williams estate for the Broadway stage. This revival of Cat is not only making Broadway history, it is making American theatre and black theatre history too!"

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Director Allen, a respected director and choreographer, is widely known for her role as Lydia Grant in the hit TV series "Fame." She made her Broadway debut in the chorus of Purlie. She created the role of Beneatha in the Tony Award-winning musical Raisin, and for the 1979 revival of West Side Story she received the Drama Desk Award, as well as her first Tony Award nomination (she played Anita). Allen received her second Tony Award nomination in 1986 for her performance in the title role of Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity.

Tony Award winner Rose is a veteran pf Caroline, or Change and Hollywood's "Dreamgirls." Howard is an Academy Award nominee whose work includes "Hustle & Flow" and "Crash." Rashad, widely known for TV's "Cosby," won a Tony for A Raisin in the Sun (the TV version of which air in February). Tony Award winner Jones is a theatre and film legend of Broadway's Fences and The Great White Hope, and voiced Darth Vader in "Star Wars," among many film projects. Esposito appeared in Broadway's Seesaw as a young actor and has acted for Spike Lee in "Do the Right Thing," "Mo' Better Blues," "School Daze" and "Malcolm X."

Cat was last seen on Broadway during the 2003-04 season in a production that starred Ashley Judd, Jason Patric and Ned Beatty. Anthony Page directed.

A 1990 revival starred Kathleen Turner, Daniel Hugh Kelly and Charles Durning, and a 1974 revival starred Elizabeth Ashley, Keir Dullea and Fred Gwynne.

The original 1955 production starred Barbara Bel Geddes, Ben Gazzara and Burl Ives and was staged by Elia Kazan.

There is a precedent for an African-American take on Williams' Deep South-set classic soap opera about greed and lies. In 1999, TheatreVirginia staged such a production, with Tamara Tunie ("As the World Turns," Broadway's Julius Caesar) as Maggie. It was thought to be the first professional African-American-cast staging of the play. Kent Gash directed the Richmond, VA, production.

The idea of a Broadway African-American cast for the play about a wealthy but dysfunctional Southern family has been around for several years. Director Lloyd Richards (Fences) expressed a hope to stage the sex-and-lies-fraught play with James Earl Jones as Big Daddy, but a staging never materialized.


"A lot of people are going to think the show is rewritten (to fit this cast)," TheatreVirginia's George Black told in 1999, noting that Williams' scripted language is drenched in a Mississippi Delta cadence so associated with African-Americans.

Director Gash said at the time that the non-traditional casting would not be anachronistic: He said there were indeed rich, land-owning African-Americans in the South in the 1950s, the milieu of the drama.

"It's not my intent to change any of the language of the play," Gash said. "There certainly won't be 'rewrites.' All the issues of the play take on a different resonance in the African-American [context]. When Big Daddy says he got [rich] by 'working like a n----- in the field,' it will really be felt."

Artistic director Black did note, however, that a reference to leading-character Brick playing football at the University of Mississippi, a school not yet integrated in the 1950s, posed a challenge. Brick referred to "Old Miss" as "college."

In that 1999 staging, Rodney Scott Hudson played Big Daddy, Lynda Gravatt was Big Mama, Thomas Corey Robinson was Brick, Gail Grate (Public Theater's 1998 Pericles) was Mae and Grate's husband, Terry Alexander (Lincoln Center Theater's Streamers) was Gooper.

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