So here’s the long and short of it: a lot of celebs turned out to see Denzel Washington open last night in “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway. Denzel’s 59, and he plays Walter Younger, who’s supposed to be maybe 29. LaTanya Richardson (also the wife of Samuel L. Jackson), who’s 65, played Lena, Walter’s mother. And they pulled it off. Not only did they succeed at this endeavor, but movie star Denzel managed to key his performance so he was part of an ensemble and not a showboating Hollywood star. How do you like that?
The A list audience: Julianne Moore and husband Bart Freundlich, Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, Joel Coen and wife Frances McDormand with their son Pedro, Denzel’s wife Pauletta, and Mr. Samuel L. Jackson himself right up front. Plus, Phylicia Rashad, who starred in “Raisin” as Lena in 2004, had a very center seat to watch Ms. Richardson. Wow!
And while Washington and Richardson are quite remarkable, as is Sophie Okonedo, the real breakout star of the night was Anika Noni Rose. It’s not like she’s new. Anika has a Tony Award for “Caroline, or Change.” She starred in the movie of “Dreamgirls.” But she just shines as Walter’s sister, Beneatha, Lorraine Hansberry’s agent of change in “Raisin.” She’s on her way to some more awards in this production.
LaTanya Richardson came in to replace Diahann Carroll as Lena. Her fans know her from Sidney Lumet’s great A&E TV series “100 Centre Street.” Where Rashad was magnificent and a little ethereal as Lena in 2004, Richardson is earthy and in your face. Rashad played Lena as vulnerable. Richardson give her a matter of fact pragmatism. She will also be up for a Tony.
I think Denzel surprises everyone. We know he’s a great movie actor. On Broadway he excelled in “Fences.” His approach to Walter is fascinating. Since Walter is 20 years younger than Denzel, the actor is able to dial back to that age. He’s lighter on his feet, even Walter is given to resignation, despair and anger. Plus, Washington molds himself into this ensemble, as Walter is not the main character, really. That’s Lena. It’s hard to imagine another Hollywood star reigning himself in like this. Kudos to director Kenny Leon.
We weren’t invited to the after party. “No press!” read several emails we received during the day. Anyway, it someplace way down past the Holland Tunnel, and it’s cold and raining. So my friend Kathy and I toddled over to Bar Centrale, above Joe Allen’s. There are only a few tables, mostly long banquettes. Jessica Lange was eating with Tommy Tune and another friend. Glenn Close and “Argo” screenwriter Chris Terrio came in from seeing Bryan Cranston in “All the Way”; then Cranston joined them. Marsha Mason had drinks with a friend at a front table. And that’s just a sampling of what went on.
Chris Terrio is working on the screenplay for “Batman and Superman.” He told me — EXCLUSIVE– absolutely nothing. Jeez Louise! Then, out of nowhere, someone from his table someone screamed, “Superman can’t be dead!” Everyone in the place turned around. Terrio turned a hot red, imagining tomorrow’s headlines. “Relax, Superman’s not dead,” he reassured us. “Everyone is alive and fine.” Lots of laughter followed. Whew!
Meanwhile, downstairs in Joe Allen’s, Shubert Theaters immensely popular co-CEO and chairman Phil Smith and a group of friends read the great reviews for “Raisin.” And that’s the way a New York night should be, in our dreams.