After a 30-year hiatus from the stage, film actress Cicely Tyson is getting bouquets, accolades and standing ovations eight times weekly for her role in “The Trip To Bountiful” which opened for a limited engagement at the Stephen Sondheim Theater.
Just one week after opening, the veteran actress received added endorsements when she was named one of only a handful of nominees for theater’s highest honors in the Best Lead Actress in a Play category for a Tony Award.
Allegedly Tyson eyed the role for almost three decades.
She reportedly hoped to portray Mrs. Carrie Watts, the character Geraldine Paige conquered in a 1985 film. Tyson is a reputed thespian and quite a conquerer herself therefore with an ensemble cast comprised of Vanessa Williams and first-time Broadway actor Cuba Gooding Jr., when the offer came she immediately signed on to take on the challenge.
From every seat, Tyson champions the role.
As ageing Mrs. Watts her discontent focusses on returning to the smells, sounds and sights of a small town in rural Texas called Bountiful. She was forced to abandon the green haven because the house she cherished had become too demanding. Her only son, Ludie (Gooding) worried she might be too frail to take on the challenge of a house, farm and fast abandoning community. To ease his concern, he imported his loving mom to the city of Houston to share a two-bedroom apartment with his materialistic, pretentious, upwardly mobile, lazy and fashion-frenzied wife, Jessie Mae (Williams).
Together, they are not unlike any average couple who inherits an in-law. Each individual expresses an intentioned perspective.
Tyson is able to hold the attention of nightly audiences all by herself. She sings and the audience sings with her.
Theater regulars might consider the spontaneous chorus an unusual phenomenon for patrons who frequent the Great White Way. But Tyson’s joyful rendition of “Blessed Assurance” seems inviting enough to imbue audiences to ditch protocol and join her through two choruses.
Some even applaud themselves for knowing the hymn.
The ensemble cast of Condola Rashad, Tom Wopat, Devon Abner, Arthur French undoubtedly contributed to the drama also named one of the very Best Revival of a Play. With four nods competing for the coveted theater prize, “The Trip To Bountiful” joins “Motown The Musical” with equal nominations making each this season’s favored dramatic and musical productions.
Valisia LeKae is nominated for her dynamic channeling of Diana Ross in the musical production Berry Gordy fully endorsed and adapted from his book “To Be Loved.”
LeKae nails the nuances and attitudes reported as natural to the diva.
Her portrayal confirmed the birth of a new star. Also joining the galaxy is Brandon Victor Dixon who portrays Gordy, the founder of the Detroit, Black record label. He will have to contend with Billy Porter for the honor of winning the Best Lead Actor category.
Porter is nominated for his role in “Kinky Boots,” the high-kicking musical which leads all nominees with 13.
The musical has a book by veteran writer/performer Harvey Fierstein and a score by first-time Broadway composer Cyndi Lauper. She is best known for her pop hits “Time After Time” and Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”
Here are the nominations by productions:
“Kinky Boots” – 13; “Matilda: The Musical” – 12; “Pippin” – 10; “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” – 9; “Golden Boy” – 8; “Lucky Guy” – 6; “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” – 6; “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” – 5; “The Nance” – 5; “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” – 5; “Motown: The Musical” –4; “The Trip to Bountiful” – 4; “The Assembled Parties” – 3; “A Christmas Story, The Musical” – 3; “Hands on a Hardbody” – 3; “The Testament of Mary”- 3; “Bring It On: The Musical” – 2; “The Heiress” – 2; “Orphans “- 2; “Ann” – 1; “Annie” – 1; “The Big Knife” – 1; “Chaplin” – 1; “Cyrano de Bergerac” – 1; “The Other Place” – 1; “Scandalous” – 1