By Linda Armstrong
James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams Lead Broadway Drama
James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams will lead the cast in On Golden Pond on Broadway at the Cort Theatre, making this the first time that an African-American cast has played the family in this production written by Ernest Thompson, who also wrote the original Broadway version, last seen in 1979 and the Academy Award winning movie of 1981.
The stars portray Norman and Ethel Thayer, an lively elderly couple spending a final time at their summer lakeside home in Maine. They are joined by other African American cast members including: Linda Powell, who will make her Broadway debut as Chelsea, their daughter; Peter Francis James, who will play Bill, her fianc‚; and Alexander Mitchell, a 12-year-old actor who will be Billy, Bill’s wild son.
On Golden Pond touches on a lot of powerful issues like the relationship between a father and daughter, how divorce affects a family, particularly a child’s reaction; it looks at how generations can find common ground and develop relationships, it also looks at the anger and resentment that a daughter can have for her father, especially when he wasn’t a good father. The play looks at how difficult it can be to deal with an elderly person who is losing their memories and realizing that they are going to die. The issues in the play are universal.
In March, a press conference was held to let everyone know this play will be happening with previews beginning March 22 and an opening performance April 7. I felt honored to attend this press conference and have the opportunity to meet James Earl Jones for the first time. Though he has been acting since 1957, Mr. Jones was a soft-spoken, humble man. Considering his lead role in the play, he said, “I know that the actor has a job to tell a story, to put a full meal on when they come on the stage. Well, I want my audience to have a bellyache,” Jones joked.
Speaking to all the cast, I could sense that they were all enthusiastic about the production, which they have done at the DuPont Theatre and the Kennedy Center in 2004. They have been nominated for four 2005 Helen Hayes Awards for the Kennedy Center performance.
Another feeling that came across was concern by Powell and Uggams. Powell hopes that Blacks will come out and support the show. Speaking on this topic, Uggams recalled the abrupt closing of Gem Of The Ocean and urged Blacks to come out and support the show right away. “We need people to come out immediately,” Uggams said. Any time our people have the opportunity to perform on Broadway, we need to be there for them and I hope that those reading this column will be. It is important that you do so. When Gem Of The Ocean losed so abruptly I was concerned and asked the press agent for the show-why, what happened? She said, “Linda, we couldn’t fill the seat.”
For tickets to On Golden Pond call 212-239-6200.
ENCORES! for Ossie Davis Production
Though it was not originally planned as a way to honor the late Ossie Davis-his play Purlie was already on the City Center schedule. ENCORES! “Purlie” production is dedicated in his honor. But you only have through April 3rd to see it! ENCORES! specializes in mounting classic works that haven’t been seen on stage in some time. The Tony and Grammy Award-winning play was last on Broadway in 1970. The current production features Blair Underwood, Tony-Award- winners Anika Noni Rose and Lillias White, and Doug E. Doug. Tickets from $25-$90 can be purchased by calling 212-581-1212.
Denzel on Broadway
Denzel Washington is still in previews right now for the Broadway production of Julius Caesar playing at the Belasco Theatre, at 111 West 44th Street. This incredible actor is playing Brutus. In this William Shakespeare play, Mr. Washingtons character is tormented between loyalty to his country and loyalty to his friend-Caesar. The play officially opens April 3 and runs through June 12. One can only imagine what a stirring performance he will deliver!