Review Roundup: A RAISIN IN THE SUN Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, starring Denzel Washington and directed by Tony Award nominee Kenny Leon, opens tonight, April 3 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (243 West 47th Street), the same theatre where the original production of A Raisin in the Sun opened 55 years ago. A Raisin in the Sun is a limited engagement running through June 15.
The production also stars LaTanya Richardson Jackson as Lena Younger, Academy Award nominee Sophie Okonedo making her Broadway debut as Ruth Younger, Tony Award winner Anika Noni Roseas Beneatha Younger, Tony Award nominee Stephen McKinley Henderson as Bobo, David Cromer as Karl Lindner, Jason Dirden as George Murchison, Sean Patrick Thomas as Joseph Asagai, and 13-year-old Bryce Clyde Jenkins, also making his Broadway debut, as Travis Younger.
Set on Chicago's South Side, A Raisin in the Sun revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family. The tensions and prejudice they face form this seminal American drama.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: The spark of rebellion, the kind that makes a man stand up and fight, has almost been extinguished in Walter Lee Younger. As portrayed by Denzel Washington in Kenny Leon's disarmingly relaxed revival of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" -- which opened on Thursday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theater -- Walter appears worn down, worn out and about ready to crawl into bed for good. Frankly, he looks a whole lot older than you probably remember him...Mr. Washington's more laid-back approach has a persuasive emotional logic, and it adds a different kind of suspense to "Raisin." As the play tells its familiar story of the Youngers' attempts to leave the South Side for the suburbs, with the life insurance money left by Lena's husband, we're less worried that Walter is going to erupt into violence than sink into stasis, dragging his family down with him.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: The show that opened Thursday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre is blistering, beautifully acted and superbly touching...Director Kenny Leon gets a second bite of the apple...and offers a throbbing, vibrant production that is a match for this 55-year-old American masterpiece. There's real humor here, too, both physical and scripted. Washington is startlingly good as Walter Lee Younger, the frustrated chauffeur and dreamer. He has the cadences and the trapped physicality in his bones -- warm and loose until he's cold and volatile...The script says Washington is supposed to be 35 -- the actor is 59 -- but all that matters is a brilliant performance, funny and poignant.
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: Mr. Leon is an inspired craftsman who creates the illusion that he's merely staying out of the way of a good script. What he does, of course, isn't nearly that simple, but you'll never catch yourself noticing this or that clever touch. All that's visible is the finished product, a piece of storytelling as plain and true and beautiful as a well-laid brick wall...Mr. Washington, though he looks good, also looks his years, so much so that the script has been quietly and pointlessly altered to make him say he's 40, not 35. (He doesn't look 40, either.) Why does this matter? Because "A Raisin in the Sun" is a naturalistic kitchen-sink drama played out on a you-are-there Chicago tenement set designed by Mark Thompson that's so faded and worn that you can almost see through the wallpaper. It's supposed to look real.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Ah, what a difference 10 years and a worthy leading man can make. The new Raisin (* * * * out of four) that opened Thursday at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre is also helmed by Leon, but it stars a riveting Denzel Washington, leading a flawless cast with his best work to date on the Main Stem. The result is a production that, considered alongside its predecessor, is nothing short of revelatory. Where Leon's last Raisin felt stiff and curiously dated, this time he and his company have reclaimed Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 play as an American classic, one that both captures a distinct time in our history and carries an enduring relevance and resonance.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Denzel Washington is the star attraction, but it's the harmonious balance of an impeccably matched ensemble that makes Kenny Leon's lovingly staged revival of A Raisin in the Sun so alive with authentic feeling. The warmth as well as the frictions and frustrations of a real family ripple through this lived-in production, with an accomplished cast that nestles deep into every moment of humor, hope and sadness. Even in its more dated passages, Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking 1959 play remains a work of stirring compassion and humanity.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Denzel Washington's rabid fans won't be seeing their idol in this heart-stopping revival of Lorraine Hansberry's ground-breaking 1959 play, "A Raisin in the Sun." They'll be seeing Walter Lee Younger, the scion of a hard-working black family who sees his dreams of success slipping away on the post-WWII racial battlefront of Chicago's South Side. The performance is a personal triumph for Washington, who refrains from star-strutting to fold himself into a tight-knit ensemble of committed stage thesps who treat this revival like a labor of love.
Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: What happens to a play revived? A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry's powerful 1959 drama, has certainly not dried up: It bursts with intense family conflict, racial politics and social consciousness. Nor, in its new incarnation, does it sag with the heavy load of an underqualified star, as the 2004 Sean Combs revival did. The pivotal role of Walter Lee Younger-a restless Chicago chauffeur and would-be/won't-be entrepreneur-is played by Denzel Washington; though 20 years older than Walter Lee, he is persuasively youthful (with an apt suggestion of seeming old before his time), and brings considerable charm and magnetism to a difficult, often unsympathetic role. Neither, however, does this production quite explode. Directed by Kenny Leon, who also helmed the 2004 version, this is a credible, realistically scaled account of a still-vital classic.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Washington has such an easygoing way about him that it seems to transfer by osmosis to the other actors -- we experience this in his first scenes on stage, where he seems to bring his own age down by a half-century, cavorting with son Travis (a very good Bryce Clyde Jenkins, in his Broadway debut) after they one-up Ruth over some small change Travis needs for school. Washington switches just as easily to a man simmering with rage that he can't amply provide for his family. But here's the thing: the actor, 59, plays a character on the cusp of 40 -- that age when we realize we might not accomplish all the things we dreamed of doing in our 20s. From the audience, the discrepancy makes a difference. I spent too much time thinking about how Washington is older than his character, and not enough time enjoying his performance.
Linda Winer, Newsday: Remember the questions raised about Denzel Washington being too old to play Walter Lee Younger...Forget all that. Forget any and all reservations, except the kind that are so hard to get for director Kenny Leon's shattering revival of Lorraine Hansberry's seminal 1959 drama about a struggling black family in Chicago. Washington, 59, is magnificent -- disaffected, exuberant, heart-shredding -- as the character Sidney Poitier created on Broadway when just 32. Yes, this Walter Lee now says he is 40, not 35, in one of his raw and bruised laments about a life that never really began. But the numbers mean nothing in this devastating portrayal, except to deepen it.
Matt Windman, AM New York: It's too bad Denzel Washington didn't play Walter Lee, the dissatisfied 35-year-old protagonist of Lorraine Hansberry's monumental 1959 African-American family drama "A Raisin in the Sun," 25 years ago. Now at age 59, there is no escaping the reality that Washington is simply too old to convincingly play the role, resulting in a fundamental imbalance and lack of credibility to the new Broadway revival...In addition to the age issue, Washington overplays Walter Lee's moodiness and often adds an inappropriately jocular and hammy tone, encouraging the audience to laugh during some of the play's most heartbreaking moments. Rose, who sparkles in scene after scene, ends up stealing the show. As Walter Lee's wife Ruth, Sophie Okonedo comes off as one-dimensionally plain and stern. Jackson too is disappointing. David Cromer, best known as a director, is out of place as the community representative who tries to bribe the family to not move to a white suburb.
Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly: Denzel Washington is a powerful presence as restless working-class family man Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun...The minute he walks on stage, the Oscar winner receives a roar of audience delight, and his tightly coiled physicality is a pleasure to watch, with one caveat: Washington's characteristic aura of forceful energy, as well as the 59-year-old actor's middle-aged maturity, throws off the emotional balance of this smooth new production, directed by Kenny Leon a decade after he staged a previous Broadway revival of the show. While Washington's charisma is a great boost for ticket sales, his vitality contradicts just how precarious the dreams of Walter, written as a younger, weaker black man, really are.
Jesse Green, Vulture: Everyone's moaning about Denzel Washington's age...Well, none of that matters. If anything, Washington comes off as no more mature than his character's pre-adolescent son. His Walter has the caught-in-a-trap itchiness of a teenager. He doesn't walk but rolls into a room, his loosey-goosey limbs desperately insinuating a joie de vivre his actual living lacks. (He's a chauffeur.) Washington has always been a very physical actor, locating the essence of a role in his body and in the music of the words, when he could get his mouth around them...Here, in the second Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry's classic, he's almost dancing the part, especially in a priceless drunk scene that ends with his burlesquing black minstrelsy and all but singing "Mammy." Even without reference to the previous Broadway Walter -- a stuporous Sean Combs -- this is an electric performance; you forget about the actor's age as quickly as you forget, in most plays that are cast color-blind, about race.
Peter Marks, The Washington Post: After a lukewarm stab at "A Raisin in the Sun" a decade ago, director Kenny Leon has returned to Lorraine Hansberry's definitive story of African-American aspiration with a potent new Broadway revival starring Denzel Washington and Anika Noni Rose that reaffirms its place in the pantheon of great American drama. In his second crack at Hansberry's 1959 masterwork...Leon in concert with his cast finds the driving rhythm of bitterness that suffuses the work and in particular, the character of Walter Lee Younger. Washington is, in fact, older than Younger by a couple of decades. Nevertheless, the actor gives a sterling account of Walter Lee's careless sourness, an aura of self-defeat that renders utterly credible the decision he makes that all but scuttles the family's rise to middle class security.
Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: This age problem is, at minimum, a distraction, an elephant in the room for a play that deserves no such issue in its way. I'd argue it does some damage to the actual play itself, an issue never more apparent than when Lena "Mama" Younger (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) turns to her daughter-in-law Ruth (Sophie Okonedo) and marvels at how her immature son, having just kicked out a representative from the white residents' association, played by David Cromer, finally has come into his manhood. One is aware that one just has watched a scene of power and assertion, but the notion of the arrival of some kind of delayed maturity for a young man who has felt like a coiled-up spring is, well, stupid. What was everyone thinking? There is one exceptionally fine performance in this otherwise mostly unremarkable revival, staged on a set by Mark Thompson that feels overly fancy for a Chicago apartment house. Okonedo's world-weary but hopeful Ruth is a beautiful piece of acting, at once determined, kind, hopeful, loving and sad.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Denzel Washington's popularity makes the revival of "A Raisin in the Sun" a hot ticket, but there's a better reason: He and the show are flat-out excellent. Reprising Sidney Poitier's role, Washington is stunning as the dreamer-schemer Walter Lee Younger, whose frustration throbs at the heart of an American classic that is as deeply humorous as it is affecting. The Oscar and Tony winner squeezes this juicy role with all his might, yet also melds seamlessly with his fellow actors...Guided by director Kenny Leon, performances are natural and lived-in, giving the audience the feeling that they're overhearing private conversations. But listening -- and really heeding -- is the point.
David Finkle, The Huffington Post: For this version, Walter Lee describes himself as 40, and therein lies the problem. Washington is 59, and can get away (almost) with appearing as a man almost 20 years younger than he is, but something is still wrong. Hansberry intends Walter Lee's playing fast and loose with the much needed incoming funds to be attributed to a young man's impetuosity. His behavior in those circumstances is understandable if not excusable. Washington, on the other hand, looks too much like a man who long should have known better...Having established all that, I should add that the manner in which Washington skews Hansberry's purpose probably won't bother the actor's fans. They'll be thrilled again to see him up close and personal. And it isn't as if--aside from the way he's miscast himself (the revival is, of course, his choice)--he doesn't give a committed performance.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: 'A Raisin in the Sun" endures for good reason. Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 play - the first by a black woman on Broadway - features several meaty roles and enough dramatic momentum to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. No wonder stars are drawn to this classic, even when they aren't necessarily right for it. Ten years ago, Sean Combs (a k a Puff Daddy) picked "Raisin" for his Broadway debut.
Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: And Washington, despite his fine work, doesn't reach down to reveal the shattering impact on Walter of his dream's destruction. The one performer who allows us inside is Okonedo, a British actress making a superb New York stage debut. Using all the details of the actor's art - small gestures, slight changes in expression - she somehow reveals Ruth's soul. And that makes her longing to establish the family in its own home the most affecting dream of all.
Roma Tore, NY1: Every rare while, a great play is given the production it deserves. That's how it is with this revival of "A Raisin In The Sun". Director Kenny Leon tackled the drama 10 years ago with Sean Combs in the lead, but what a difference a star makes. And because the 55-year-old work remains astonishingly relevant today, I can happily say Denzel and company are "da bomb."
Matt Wolf, Telegraph: Would Washington bring the energy and intensity required to play the dreamy, often feckless Chicago chauffeur? The answer, for the most part, is yes. So much so that early on you cease to worry about the age gap of only five years between Washington and the formidable LaTanya Richardson Jackson (wife to Samuel L), who plays Walter Lee's God-fearing mother, Lena. "That's acting," Washington said in a recent interview, speaking of the challenges posed by the casting. And if the double Oscar-winner is no longer quite the "lean" presence indicated in the text, he fully inhabits the self-described "volcano" that is Walter Lee, waiting to erupt.
Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe