The Playbill Vault Celebrates Tony Award Winner Phylicia Rashad

News   The Playbill Vault Celebrates Tony Award Winner Phylicia Rashad
Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad celebrates her birthday June 19. The Playbill Vault looks back at highlights from her Broadway stage career.

One of Rashad's earliest stage credits was the original production of The Wiz, where she appeared in the ensemble. Listed in the Playbill under her maiden name, Phylicia Ayers-Allen, she played a Munchkin and also understudied the role of Glinda.

The musical opened at the Majestic Theatre Jan. 5, 1975, featuring Stephanie Mills as Dorothy, Tiger Haynes as the Tinman, Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion and Hinton Battle as the Scarecrow. Despite poor reviews — the New York Times' Clive Barnes called the story "tiresome" and felt the "total result [was] a little cold" — the production was a commercial success. It won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and went on to play 1,672 performances.

Read the Playbill for The Wiz here.

Rashad's next career highlight came in the original production of the popular musical Dreamgirls. Directed by Michael Bennett, the show opened Dec. 20, 1981, at the Imperial Theatre starring Loretta Devine, Jennifer Holliday and Sheryl Lee Ralph. Rashad appeared in the ensemble and was the understudy for Ralph's role of Deena Jones.

The production received a rave review from the New York Times. Theatre critic Frank Rich wrote: "Broadway history was made at the end of the first act of Michael Bennett's beautiful and heartbreaking new musical, Dreamgirls."

The show was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won six, though it lost Best Musical to Nine. Dreamgirls ran for 1,521 performances before closing Aug. 11, 1985.

Read the Dreamgirls Playbill here.

After stints as the Witch in Into the Woods and Anita in Jelly's Last Jam, Rashad starred in the 2004 revival of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. She played Lena Younger opposite Audra McDonald as Ruth Younger, Sanaa Lathan as Beneatha Younger and Sean Combs in his Broadway debut as Walter Lee Younger.

The production opened April 26, 2004, at the Royale Theatre to mixed reviews. "Though the production features sterling work from Ms. McDonald and Ms. Rashad," wrote Ben Brantley in his review for the New York Times, "it lacks the fully developed central performance from Mr. Combs that would hold the show together."

Rashad was awarded the 2004 Best Actress in a Play Tony for her work. Though it received a lukewarm response from critics, the production was a box-office success and recouped its investment in two months. It closed July 11, 2004, after a limited run of 88 performances.

Read the A Raisin in the Sun Playbill here.

Following A Raisin in the Sun, Rashad starred in productions of Gem of the Ocean, Cymbeline and August: Osage County. In 2008 she appeared in an all-black production of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She played Big Mama in a cast that included James Earl Jones as Big Daddy, Terrence Howard making his Broadway debut as Brick and Anika Noni Rose as Maggie.

Directed by Rashad's sister Debbie Allen, the revival opened March 6, 2008, at the Broadhurst Theatre, where it ran for 125 performances. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  was Rashad's last appearance on Broadway to date.

Read the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Playbill here.

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