Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” featuring an African-American cast, will start performances at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre, at 235 W. 44th St., on April 3.
The press was recently treated to a meet-and-greet with the producers and cast, after which the cast went to the Broadhurst for their first rehearsal. That morning, the second floor of the Signature Theatre on West 42nd Street was abuzz with excitement as producers Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones, director Emily Mann and lead cast members Blair Underwood, Nicole Ari Parker, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Wood Harris came together to talk to reporters.
It was also acknowledged that other African-Americans will be sharing the stage with them in supporting roles, including Count Stovall, Carmen De Lavallade and Aaron Clifton Moten.
Reflecting on why this play is a perfect fit for African-Americans, Byrd explained, “‘Streetcar’ really resonates for people of color to do, but it was considered nontraditional.
“I read and did a lot of research on Tennessee Williams,” he continued. “He wrote with a soulfulness, a poetry that we could relate to. It was like Billie Holiday singing. He said that he always wanted to write for Black people, but he didn’t know how.
“This resonates with us, it’s our story. ‘Streetcar’–here’s a guy, Stanley, minding his own business, very happy, likes to drink his beer, play poker, go bowling, his wife is pregnant and in walks his crazy sister-in-law [who] disrupts his life. There’s always someone in the family who interrupts your life and outstays their welcome. This story is not a stretch for us to do.”
Three of this production’s lead actors are making their Broadway debuts. While Underwood, starring as Stanley, has done a lot of off-Broadway work, this show marks his first appearance on the Great White Way.
“For me as an actor,” he said, “there are the top three roles before I go–Hamlet, Walter Lee [from ‘Raisin in the Sun’] and this opportunity that came along. But you don’t usually allow yourself to consider it. It’s not written Black, unless you have a progressive producer who will allow you to do it.
“Why is it a great role? Because you tap into the entire spectrum of human emotions and the way it’s written and portrayed–anyone can relate to this man. You can relate to his humanity and his vulnerability. He’s very much a manchild. He’s a spoiled brat on one side and he’s a beast and a brute on the other side,” he shared.
Parker, making her Broadway debut as Blanche, advised young actors and actresses: “Don’t ever give up. I waited 20 years for this phone call. I went to NYU and studied Tennessee Williams. I studied the classics, but never in a million years did I think that I would have the chance to be cast as Blanche DuBois on Broadway.
“Something in me said, ‘I’m not going to give up, I’m going to keep going and do my film and television, make my living, being grateful, but I’m going to get there some day’–and here I am. I met with Emily [Mann] and a 40-minute lunch turned into three hours,” she said.
Parker feels that her character is a perfect fit for an African-American actress. “Tennessee Williams writes about characters who endure. He likes characters who push through the cement like a blade of grass. And our people, in the history of this country, have endured, from the beginning to now. So in the fiber of our being, we are made for Tennessee Williams’ material.”
Harris, who plays Mitch, is also making his Broadway debut. “It’s still surreal. You’re here on the first day of rehearsal and it’s just exciting. It’s a reinvigorating moment for me,” he explained.
“Mitch is innocent, a purer form of Stanley in a way. He seems like the opposite because of that. I think he should still encompass the sexuality of a Stanley.
“It’s a piece of history in a way. I hope the play is a fast ride for the audience. I want people to be immersed in what we’re doing. I want the audience to experience the arc of what the characters go through. Tennessee Williams on Broadway, it doesn’t get better than this. It’s Tennessee Williams and it’s Black.”
Rubin-Vega will portray Stella. “Approaching any role, there are always challenges to explore. The challenge is to make the most with what the words are on that page. They are so full of possibility, particularly, with a cast of color. The relevance is not compromised, it’s broadened. It’s more relevant when you throw the powder keg of race in with politics of sex and class,” explained the actress, who has quite a few Broadway shows under her belt.
Rubin-Vega is hopeful that productions like “Fela!” “The Mountaintop,” “Stick Fly,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” have given Black audiences more of an opportunity to see themselves on Broadway. “To take an American classic, a masterpiece, and make it completely, unapologetically relevant to folks is clear.
“I want the audience to come away feeling represented, identifying, completely being impacted by the brutality of this piece. This is a brutally human American tragedy and I want people to be moved. I would love to see people of color feeling like they completely belong in the lexicon of American theater,” she added.
To purchase tickets or for more information, visit www.streetcaronbroadway.com.