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a review by Matt Windman, amNY, who gave it one star

 catonhottinroof.jpg

What exactly makes “Fame” alumna Debbie Allen qualified to direct a Broadway revivial of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”?  Her directing experience includes only a handful of musical projects.  And while “Cat” is one of Tennessee Williams’ most engrossing dramas, it is hard to pull off.

Is this the result of nepotism?  Allen is the sister of Phylicia Rashad, who plays Big Mama.  The show was supposed to be directed by Kenny Leon and star Audra MacDonald.  Rumor has it that the producer wanted an actress with more celebrity, which effectively ruined the original creative team.  Debbie Allen’s staging is terrible.  Just plain awful and amateurish.  This production is poorly executed.

Allen treats the drama like a television sitcom, overemphasizing the humor at the expense of subtlety.  And when we reach a monlogue, Allen awkwardly puts a spotlight on the actor and dims the light on everyone else.  The bedroom is unnecessarily cluttered with countless pieces of furniture.  And why is there a saxophone player in the audience?

Anika Noni Rose is 35 years old, but looks 22 and far too pure and prim to credibly play a rough gal like Maggie the Cat.  Clad in a hot yellow dress displaying ample cleavage, she looks more like a model than a character who grew up in poverty.

Terrence Howard is horrible as Brick.  We would say his acting is as wooden as the character’s crutch, but here the crutch is made of titanium.  Allen has reset the play, which premiered in 1955, into the present.  Again, not a bad idea, but she awkwardly messes traditional and modern designs together.

So where does this leave pros like James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad?  Their wasted talent goes down the toilet, which is where this revival belongs.

Just announced: Terrence Howard will not be appearing from April 15 – May 4.  He will be replaced by Boris Kodjoe.

Miss NJ:   First, I saw this in previews.  Second, I had never seen this play before, not even the television version with Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, so I knew nothing about the story or anything when I saw it.  

It wasn’t great but it wasn’t as bad as all this.  Anika was pretty good as Maggie, she just talked too fast and her dialogue got lost frequently.  I found Phylicia’s Southern accent annoying after a while.  She was the only one to do an accent and it became distracting, particularly in her exchanges with James Earl Jones.  I will agree that the pacing of the play does make it hard to really appreciate what is actually happening since alot of the real drama in the storyline is implied rather than said.  As for Terrence, he was weak, but given the directing I think he did what he could. 

Supposedly, Debbie is planning to direct all of Tenessee Williams’ plays with all-Black casts.  I’m willing to wait and see how the others look before passing judgment on her directing abilities.  Overall, I give it two and half stars.

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