Broadway Cat searches for new British talent

Published April 23, 2009

The successful 2008 Broadway production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, the first all-African-American production of the play to be approved by Tennessee Williams’s estate for performance on the Great White Way, is to transfer to the West End this autumn with its star James Earl Jones.

Details of dates and theatres are yet to be finalised, though Earl Jones and New York co-star Phylicia Rashad are expected to recreate their performances as Big Daddy and Big Mama in London.

While the show is to keep its director, Debbie Allen, other talent will be sought to create a new overall design for the British transfer.

Talking to entertainment industry newspaper The Stage, the show’s producer Stephen C Byrd also explained that the production aimed to unearth new backstage theatrical talent, with the director beginning the search in June: “Debbie’s mandate is that she is looking for people who need an advantage, ie, people of colour who have not had an opportunity to work in the industry before. We try to subscribe to giving anyone an opportunity who has talent.”

Jones is a two-time Tony Award-winning actor, picking up the accolade for his 1969 performance in The Great White Hope and his 1987 performance in Fences. His unmistakable vocal talents, known to science-fiction fans worldwide as the voice of Star Wars villain Darth Vader, have also been heard as the voice of Mufasa in Disney animation The Lion King and its sequel, while other film roles include Field Of Dreams, Coming To America and The Hunt For Red October.

Rashad is also a Tony Award-winner, collecting her award for her 2004 performance in A Raisin In The Sun, making history by becoming the first African-American actress to win the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play. An experienced stage actress, she may be best known for her long running role as Claire Huxtable in hit American comedy The Cosby Show.

Further casting information is currently unavailable, though the producers are thought to be in talks with Adrian Lester to play the part of Brick.

Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is set on a Mississippi estate where patriarch Big Daddy is unaware he is dying from cancer as the truth has been kept from him by his children. Maggie, the ‘Cat’ of the title, has married into this wealthy family to escape the poverty of her childhood but finds herself neglected by her alcoholic husband Brick.

The play was last performed in London at the Lyric theatre in 2001, when the cast included Frances O’Connor, Brendan Fraser and Gemma Jones.

MA