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Review Roundup: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, Starring Scarlett Johansson and Benjamin Walker, Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!


Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring Scarlett Johansson as Maggie, Ciarán Hinds as Big Daddy, Benjamin Walker as Brick and Debra Monk as Big Mama, directed by Rob Ashford, will begin tonight, January 17, and will play a limited engagement through March 30, 2013 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre (226 West 46th Street).

The design team is comprised of Christopher Oram (Scenic Design), Julie Weiss (Costume Design), Neil Austin (Lighting Design) and Adam Cork (Composer and Sound Design).

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, "Big Daddy" Pollitt, the richest cotton planter in the Mississippi Delta, is about to celebrate his 65th birthday. He is distressed by the rocky relationship between his beloved son Brick, an aging football hero who has turned to drink, and his beautiful and feisty wife Maggie. As the hot summer evening unfolds, the veneer of Southern gentility slips away as unpleasant truths emerge and greed, lies and suppressed sexuality reach a boiling point.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: [Johansson's] sophomore Broadway performance isn't as fully integrated as the one she gave in "Bridge"; there are a few miscalculations in her take on Maggie. She is perhaps too forthright to be truly feline, and for a poor but well-brought-up debutante, her accent is strangely common. But Ms. Johansson confirms her promise as a stage actress of imposing presence and adventurous intelligence. Her Maggie is, as she must be, an undeniable life force and - as far as this production, directed by Rob Ashford, is concerned - a lifeline...Ms. Johansson is also the only major player in "Cat" who appears to have a fully thought-through idea of the character she's portraying.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: Whether all the sound effects are meant to enhance the performances onstage or cover up the acting is unclear. What's not unclear is that an unnecessarily noisy production opened Thursday at the Richard Rodgers Theatre...Scarlett Johansson turns in a nifty turn as Maggie, finding humor and barely hidden desperation in her role as frustrated wife and mother-to-be. She's less overtly sexy than other actresses who have played the ironic role, making her Maggie more cerebral, angry and proud. Benjamin Walker, as her husband Brick, is slow to boil but savage when he does, a former athlete turned into a languid hunk of beef who sits on the edges of the stage avoiding conversation and hiding in a bottle. They have little chemistry at first - but that's kind of the point.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Somebody spayed the cat. And it wasn't the hard-working main attraction Scarlett Johansson, who plays Tennessee Williams' tenacious feline title character in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The star and her similarly marooned fellow cast members are all at the mercy of Rob Ashford, a director out of his depth and reaching for any floatation device he can grab in this sinking Broadway revival, which manages to be both thunderously emphatic and curiously flat.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Fireworks light up the night sky during Big Daddy's birthday party in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." That's it for the sparks, unfortunately. Broadway's starry but misguided new take on Tennessee Williams' 1955 Pulitzer winner about secrets, lies and love is a dim and soggy affair.

Linda Winer, Newsday: Broadway has embraced many - perhaps too many - breeds of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" in recent years. Tennessee Williams' hungry and restless Maggie has been reincarnated as a slinky sexpot (Elizabeth Ashley), a sexual bulldozer (Kathleen Turner), an ineffectual flower (Ashley Judd) and, barely five years ago, a smartly luscious kitten (Anika Noni Rose) in the all-black production best remembered for James Earl Jones as Big Daddy.
What we have not had, at least in my experience, is a sedate Maggie in a tasteful, even timid revival of Williams' 1955 Pulitzer winner about voracious Southern-gothic greed and a loveless, lying family.

Scott Brown, NY Magazine: Even now, audiences are lining up to see Scarlett Johansson challenge the structural integrity of her slip as Maggie the Cat, Tennessee Williams's most bodacious creation: ambitious, lubricious, sex-starved, and ovulating. Your hundred-clams'-worth seems all but guaranteed. And yet the scene-stealer of the evening turns out to be a $5 bath towel. It's worn by Benjamin Walker, who plays Maggie's beautiful, inert husband Brick, broken plantation scion, shattered ex-gridiron star, and now celibate sot, still mourning the suicide of his "friend" and teammate Skipper.

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg News: Unsurprisingly for Ashford, a musical comedy specialist, the show unfolds like a jagged waltz gone haywire. Maggie's not the only one recoiling from the heat of the sun on that hot tin roof.

Thom Geier, EW: Like Brick, who gulps liquor until he hears 'that little click in my head that makes me peaceful,' this production tosses back many an intoxicating individual moment without ever quite clicking. B

Matt Windman, AM New York: This production generated bad word-of-mouth in previews for having an actor play the ghost of Skipper, who hovered silently around the stage. While that has thankfully been cut, what remains is an unconvincing, cheesy and cheap-looking production. At least Johansson is terrific, bringing a sultry, ferocious spirit to the famous role. Particularly fascinating is how she distinguishes Maggie's rough and nasty behavior with Brick and her well-composed, dolled-up performance for the rest of the family. Walker, sporting clean-cut looks and washboard abs, makes for a bland, one-dimensional Brick. 2 stars.

Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: Scarlett Johansson...unlike so many young movie stars, she has no problem expanding her performance chops to the live theater, booming out a character that has been precisely forged and defined but ill-advisedly contained...a clear point of view is absent in this generally confused, low-stakes and halting production - that went through changes and subtractions in its preview period and now seems stuck. It's neither a traditional staging nor a suite of fresh ideas on a great American drama that should both embody timeless interpersonal truths and reflect how much our world is changed, sexually speaking, in little more than a half-century.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: Despite occasional staging touches - the sounds of fireworks and playing children always seem to surge at momentous times - the show has a certain tragic inevitability. It's a flawed but compelling picture of Southern discomfort.

Peter Marks, Washington Post: At least in the new "Cat," the sense of menace activated by Hinds's Big Daddy provides a rationale for the mean-spiritedness spreading through his household like an oil slick. The husky-voiced Johansson, who won a Tony for her performance two years ago as the all-too-desirable dockworker's niece in Arthur Miller's "A View From the Bridge," holds her own here, managing a persuasive account of Maggie's quick wits and pragmatic focus. What's missing, though, is her drawing a bead on the character's insecurities, the desperation that compels Maggie to cling to a lie - and to a man who reviles her. (Walker, who played a rock star president in the irreverent-history musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," lives up to his character's name here, imbuing Brick with a stony, one-note sullenness.)

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Johansson's Maggie is no vamp. What makes her so distinct from View's Catherine -- aside from her accent (Southern, as opposed to Brooklyn) and hair color (strawberry blonde rather than brunette) -- is a certain premature hardness. Pacing the stage, her voice hoarse with frustration, the actress makes us keenly aware of how desperate this beautiful creature is as she appeals to the one man she needs, and possibly loves: her husband, Brick. Seduction is not the first thing on her mind; survival is.

Don Aucoin, Boston Globe: Ashford overdoes the atmospherics; when a heavily symbolic storm arrives late in the play, it rumbles and crashes like something out of "Wuthering Heights.' The Pollitt household, designed by Christopher Oram, is enclosed by giant, creamy, billowing curtains. At center stage is a king-size bed, looming like an exclamation point over Brick's refusal to sleep with Maggie.

Toby Zinman, Philadelphia Inquirer: Cat is a play about disease: not just the cancer that is destroying Big Daddy, but the "mendacity" and "disgust" devouring the family, and, by implication, American society: much more is at stake than the land, and we should be more powerfully moved than I, at least, was this time through.

Robert Feldberg, Bergen Report: If the first act belongs to Maggie, the second is the province of Big Daddy (Ciaran Hinds), Brick's vulgar, outsized father, who makes great noises in rejecting pretense and dishonesty. (Of his servile wife, Big Mama (Debra Monk), he says, "I haven't been able to stand the sight, sound or smell of that woman for 40 years now.")

Brendan Lemon, Financial Times: Most of the electricity indoors is generated by Ciaran Hinds as Big Daddy and Debra Monk as Big Mama. Hinds hasn't quite the rotundity that we expect from Broadway Big Daddys. His beard and slick-backed hair suggest the con game of a riverboat gambler rather than the high stakes of an earthy Mississippi planter struggling with the spectre of cancer. But the actor's southern accent isn't syrupy, and he achieves genuine pathos in the act-two showdown with Brick about the latter's intimate relationship with his deceased buddy, Skipper.

Michael Musto, Village Voice: Tony winner Scarlett Johansson is the frustrated Maggie, who spends Act One raging against her alcoholic husband, Brick (Benjamin Walker) for not romancing her anymore, and worse, for looking better than ever. Johansson has fun with Maggie's imaginative way with language, but with her raspy voice and overly direct approach, she seems to be playing Maggie's extreme coarseness at the expense of her sultriness or vulnerability. Her high-volume take is interesting, but it's hard to believe the emotionally (and physically) crippled Brick wouldn't grab his crutch--as it were--and hobble away for miles rather than just roll over to the other side of the bed.

Terry Teachout, Wallstreet Journal: The world really didn't need yet another "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," least of all the one that just opened in New York. This is the third time in the past decade that Tennessee Williams's overripe, overwrought 1955 play about a grossly dysfunctional Southern couple (he's probably gay, she's definitely miserable) has been revived on Broadway. Like its predecessors, it's a belly-up disaster whose existence can be explained, if not justified, by the presence of a movie star in the cast.

David Cote, Time Out NY: The night may be unsatisfying, but it's not a total loss. Ciarán Hinds's Big Daddy offers some goatish fun; Debra Monk's Big Mama bustles and blubbers amusingly. And Emily Bergl's Mae (Maggie's sister-in-law and rival for Big Daddy's inheritance) is deliciously bitchy. Johansson could take a few pointers from Bergl on the fine art of purring

Erik Haagensen, Backstage: Ashford's awkward, excessively physical staging includes far too much unimaginative circling of Brick and Maggie's dominating bed. Though Williams does mandate things such as the offstage singing of field hands, Ashford ham-fistedly employs Adam Cork's busy sound design, especially in the too-obvious use of some punctuating fireworks. Ashford also begins and ends each act with Cork's crashing music cranked up high, as if to create by fiat the searing drama that he has been unable to unlock in the play. Williams should be allowed to make his own music.

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