Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Theater Review: Denzel Opens “Raisin,” Plus News About “Batman and Superman”


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.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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