People will lead you to believe that the reason to catch the new production of Tennesse Willims' A Street Care Named Desire is to see Blair Underwood on Broadway.
And it is. He's good. But you know this already. He's had a long career in television and on film playing characters that were sophisticated (Something New), smart (LA Law), and sexy (Sex and the City). We've seen him mean before, too (Madea's Family Reunion). And of course you know the man is fine. (He takes his shirt off in the play to reveal a real nice six-pack situation happening). A true thespian, he brings all of these elements to Stanley, successfully filling the role on stage that none other than Marlon Brando epitomized in the classic film. But again, to me, this came as no surprise. I knew he could do the damn thing and he did.
Who did surprise me in this production was Nicole Ari Parker. When I heard she'd been cast in the multi-cultural production I didn't get it. Blanche DuBois a big role. A classic role. A role immortalized on film by Vivien Leigh in a post-Scarlet O'Hara performance that proved no one could do southern belle quite as well. A role that requires flickering, conflicting displays of vanity, confusion, corruption, vulnerability, wisdom, wit and regret. Let's not forget the play's many moody monologues. Thankfully,Nicole Ari Parker didn't disappoint. Among a talented cast that also included the handsome Wood Harris as Blanche's love interest Mitch and Daphne Ruben-Vega as her sister, Nicole Ari-Parker as the desire-driven Stella was the standout.
In the audience, where I spotted a discreet Holly Robinson-Peete taking in the show with a friend, the buzz was the same. During curtain call the woman behind me whispered to her date: "Nicole played the sh-t out of that role" and she did. She really, really did.
This past season I have seen many performances by black actresses on Broadway. Angela Basset was powerful in The Mountaintop (but of course she was; she's Angela Basset) while watching the female cast of Stick Fly was an unremarkable experience.
But Nicole Ari Parker in this revamped version of A Streetcar Named Desire was a revelation. I didn't know she had it in her, but oh she did! Her performance of the damaged and doomed Blanche outshone Mr. Underwood's Stanley and he seemed content to let her shine.
You may have seen Nicole-Ari Parker in television's Soul Food and in films like "Boogie Nights" and "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins." But you haven't seen her until you've seen her as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. It's been a long time coming for the NYU alum and audiences alike, but this Broadway season, finally, a star is born.