Maybe it was just too good to be true.
Diahann Carroll’s much anticipated return to The Great White Way — after 30+ years — isn’t going to happen after all. The acclaimed actress, set to play opposite Denzel Washington in a new revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, has quit the show.
Production spokesman Philip Rinaldi confirmed that Carroll withdrew from the production due to the vigorous demands of the rehearsal and performance schedule.
“The pace of filming movies and TV projects is quite different than the extensive amount of time preparing and appearing ‘live’ on Broadway 8 times a week,” Carroll said in a statement on Sunday. “I enjoyed working with Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, Kenny Leon and an amazing cast and I wish them well.”
The show, also starring Anika Noni Rose, Sophie Okonedo, Jason Dirden, David Croner, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Sean Patrick Thomas, started rehearsals at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre two weeks ago. LaTanya Richardson Jackson (wife of Samuel L. Jackson) has assumed Carroll’s role.
In an interview in the February edition of Playbill magazine, the Tony and Golden Globe Award winning actress opened up about her anxiety with returning to Broadway after such a lengthy absence.
“It’s because it’s certainly a very difficult thing to do and as we all know it is eight times a week and that is something for a woman who is my age to take into consideration very seriously,” Carroll, 78, said. She described it was “a long process of getting physically well and happy as possibly as one can.”
“And that’s the big to-do at the moment for me, the discipline,” she added.
Carroll, the first African American woman to win a Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award for 1962’s No Strings Attached, was last seen on Broadway in 1983’s Agnes of God.
The Bronx native, nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award in 1974 for the title role in Claudine, was also the first Black woman to front a sitcom — in a non-stereotypical role — with the 1968 NBC series Julia.
She currently stars in USA network’s White Collar and recently wrapped a movie titled A Masked Saint.
Richardson Jackson will replace Carroll in the role of Lena Younger, the matriarch of the family drama set in 1950s Chicago, is a longtime friend of Washington’s. She made her Broadway debut in the 2009 revival of the August Wilson play Joe Turner’s Come And Gone.
An accomplished (and underrated) actress in her own right, Richardson Jackson has countless off-Broadway credits including Love, Loss and What I Wore, Casanova, For Colored Girls…, From the Mississippi. She has appeared in the films Mothers and Daughters, The Fighting Temptations, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Malcolm X. Some of her TV credits include 100 Centre Street, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Unchained Memories: Slave Narratives, The Civil War and One Life to Live.
For some who may have raised eyebrows about Washington, at 59, being too long in the tooth to portray the 35-year old-ish Walter Lee Younger character, the casting of Richardson Jackson may be more perplexing; she’s only five years Washington’s senior — and portraying his mother.
But the casting of this fabled play was also brought into question during its 2004 revival, also helmed by Leon. Hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs joined theatre vets Audra McDonald and Phylicia Rashad for the much buzzed-about revival. “Will the very 21st-century figure who is Mr. Combs, whose career has been a sustained triumph of nerve over probability, be able to turn into a man of continually thwarted dreams of the mid-20th century? Will he prove that you don’t need long years of experience and training to knock ‘em dead on Broadway? “ questioned New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley in his mostly negative review of the revival. “Clearly, Mr. Combs has left lots of space for Walter to grow. Unfortunately, that space is never filled,” Brantley concluded.
Despite the scrutiny, that version of the play became a box-office success and was adapted into a highly rated ABC television movie event. Washington seems to be one of the few of Hollywood’s A-list stars to have a Midas Touch on The Great White Way. Despite abysmal reviews for 2005’s Julius Caesar, it was one of the hottest tickets in town. He and co-star Viola Davis enjoyed much fanfare and ended up winning Tony Awards for the 2010 revival of August Wilson’s Fences, which was also directed by Leon.
A Raisin in the Sun is scheduled to begin performances March 8 and is set to run for a 14-week limited engagement scheduled through June 15.