Hop like a CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF to get your ticket!

Excitement and anticipation was in the air as people arrived for Press Night on 1st December 2009 at the Novello Theatre, London for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

One word sums it up – BRAVO!  This Tennessee Williams play directed by the talented Debbie Allen and played by an all black cast is full of passion, conviction, drama, humor and touching moments.  The unchanging set seemed authentic… making you believe you were in a big beautiful mansion on a Mississippi plantation.  You could see the wealth and prestige of the Pollitt family.  The mirrors on either side of the Stalls seating area in the beautiful Novello Theatre actually made the stage seem bigger.

All the characters play specific contributing roles but James Earl Jones (Big Daddy) was bigger than life – what a presence!  Sometimes you weren’t sure what to think about Big Daddy as he was usually what could be perceived as loud, rude and uncaring.  However, maybe he was who he was from working his way up in the cotton fields to owning the largest plantation this side of the Nile and putting up being surrounded by mendacity.  There were some words (actually one word said a few times) and movements that I wasn’t expecting from James Earl Jones but they seemed to fit the character – so well done.  As Big Daddy faced his mortality, he was trying to figure out who to leave his large estate to… wanting to leave it to his favorite son, Brick, but not knowing he could handle the responsibility while being an alcoholic.

I expected Big Mama played by Phylicia Rashad to be bigger (literally), especially the way Big Daddy talked about her but she played her part really well… the way she acted ‘older’ and as a loving and devoted mother and wife… strong and fearless when she had to be.  You could see her love for Big Daddy though he said he wished he could believe it.  That’s a sad statement after 40 years of marriage though you saw some tenderness between them at the end.  It was odd how sometimes what he said to her made us laugh when in reality, we would have been upset at the harsh tone / words he used disrespecting someone who deserves respect.

Sanaa Lathan as Maggie the Cat and Adrian Lester as Brick the alcoholic husband/son gave outstanding performances.  There were times I had to laugh thinking she is hounding that poor man and does she ever shut up but by the end I was admiring her for her strength and perseverance.  She seemed genuinely concerned for Big Daddy and caring towards Big Mama though at first she did only seem worried (like the others) about what they would inherit.  I found myself wanting to defend or protect Brick as you could feel his pain with the loss of his best ‘friend’ and having to think / talk about that in an unwelcomed heart-to-heart with his father.  Maggie and particularly Brick seemed to have the genuine affections of Big Daddy which was such a stark contrast to how he talked to / treated everyone else.

Nina Sosanya (Mae) and Peter de Jersey (Mae’s husband, Gooper) did great in their supporting roles.  I was just wondering where the fifth kid was as they kept talking about their 5 kids and 1 on the way… usually there were only 4 on the stage that I noticed anyway.  You kind of loved to hate them as they were annoying with their pettiness and greed while appearing upper class / proper.

The show passionately and accurately touches on alcoholism, loss, illness (cancer), facing mortality, family gatherings, greed, family discontent, sibling rivalry, being childless, sexuality, love, pain, and fear.  It has everything.  All the actors gave it their all from Big Daddy to the servants to the children and everyone in between – that was quite obvious.  I liked the references to a ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ tying the title with the characters / behaviors.

The lighting was well done showing the sun setting, seeing the moon and stars, fireworks, etc.  As mentioned, the set/stage was well done and I thought it was interesting how the whole play took place in Maggie and Brick’s bedroom (due to Brick’s injured ankle) though it had everything needed from a sitting area to a bar complete with radio and television to a couple of doors leading out to the Gallery.

I’m not sure about the two ‘intermissions’ (or the 15 minute interval and 5 minute break).  I’m not sure the 5 minute break is needed unless people know how long it is so they can get back to their seats before the play continues although it gives people an opportunity to stand and stretch their legs.  The intermissions seemed to be timed right though according to what was going on within the play.  The safety curtain was a beautifully painted nature scene of the Mississippi contributing to the feel of the south.

It is certainly worth it to experience this brilliant play with the cast and creative team involved.  They are responsible for making this magnificent version of this play the success it is.  The Novello Theatre is the perfect venue… suitable luxurious-feeling surroundings (with marble and mirrors), comfortable seats… nice view from the Stalls (seemed to be light and spacious).

Bravo, everyone!  Bravo!  And ‘many happy returns’.

by Ann Kamran (stagetalk.co.uk)

[Rating:4.0/5]

Book Tickets for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Novello Theatre!

An Evening with Debbie Allen – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the next Hot thing! It will be coming to London’s West End later this year, but this theatre-lover will have a hard time waiting.

There was a Meet & Greet at the beautiful Novello Theatre tonight (17th June 2009) where those in the trade had the privilege to hear some videotaped words from the four main characters – James Earl Jones (Big Daddy), Phylicia Rashad (Big Mama), Adrian Lester (son Brick) and Sanaa Lathan (Maggie, Brick’s frustrated wife) – displaying their enthusiasm to bringing this Tennessee Williams’ play to London. We were also honored to meet Director Debbie Allen and Producers Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones… in town for Auditions for just a few days.

Let me tell you… Debbie Allen is just as I imagined her. You know when you grow up with someone (via tv), when you see their pictures, read about them… you get a perception of how that person should be. I was not disappointed! I imagined her to have so much passion and enthusiasm for the Arts and to be a kind soul. I have to say… I was in awe of her… to be standing in the room with ‘the’ Debbie Allen… and to even talk to her and be able to give her a hug. She was outgoing and lovely. She spoke to anyone who wished to speak to her. She displayed such vigor, excitement and enthusiasm about this project and life in general, it seemed. Jet lag wouldn’t even keep her from making the most of her few days here as she walked in London last night and awoke at 6:30 AM this morning although it was her intention to sleep until 8 AM! Her smile was big and beautiful just like her personality.

Of course, thinking of the different ways she has touched so many lives not only with the most popular thing that comes to mind – Fame – but the different shows she has directed, the different talents she has choreographed for, her Dance Academy, the different committees she is involved in… her passion exudes from every aspect of her life, it seems. Yet, she is an everyday person… just like you and me. She’s a wife, a busy mother of two who works. She gives of herself.

I got a chance to have a chat with Debbie and she talked about her two children (daughter 25 and son 21)… she talked about her love for creativity (which is evident)… how she is so excited to be back in London. She really is so personable… it was like chatting with a friend. Her beauty exudes from the inside out… still as gorgeous as ever.

I cannot say enough about Debbie, about the producers, about the current cast members and the cast members to join (by the way, they are quite impressed with the talent here in the UK just from the first day of auditions).

I had a chance to chat with Producer Alia Jones (another lovely person). She said that Debbie talks to each actor… spends time with them all, that she thinks of the company as a family and brings them all together as a family… every member no matter what their position is (on the stage or behind the scenes). She also said this is evident on the stage as you see the actors interact with one another… making it even more believable and enjoyable.

Expect good things this December! Mark your calendars! It is playing for an exclusive period from 1st December 2009 to 10th April 2010 (with previews starting 21st November). You won’t want to miss this vibrant, moving, passionate production! See you there!