“A Raisin in the Sun” was the first play by an African-American woman to be produced on broadway. Lorraine Hansberry's piece is about an African-American family on the South Side of Chicago, whose lives are disrupted by the arrival of an insurance check in the amount of $10,000. The 1959 cast included Oscar Winner Sidney Poitier and actress Ruby Dee, who was nominated for an Oscar this year for her role in "American Gangster". The original cast also went to film, in a 1961 Columbia Films feature.
Last night, the three-hour event aired on ABC. The contemporary cast included Sanaa Lathan, Tony Award Winner Audra McDonald, Sean Combs and Phylicia Rashad, who won a Tony Award for her role as Lena Younger (the recipient of the check). Rashad was the first African-American woman to win a Tony Award for a lead character in a play.
Combs' performance was not as bad as I (or most) imagined that it would be. He showed in this performance that he was indeed trying, and challenging himself in the art. I attended an NAACP Hollywood Bureau screening of the film on November 10th of last year, and had an opportunity to meet the movie's producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. I remember Zadan mentioning that in order to fully get into character, Combs had an exact replica of the set built in his living room. Talk about Lee Strasberg at his finest.
The performance that excited me the most was that of Phylicia Rashad, who has proven time and again with candor and grace that her artistic legacy will live on. Rashad has managed to successfully embody EVERY character that I've seen her play. She brings stories to life in a way that most contemporary actresses can learn from, remembering her theatrical root even while on the screen. Her performance was phenomenal, and whether or not the Globe, Essence, or Bob recognize her, she is greatly appreciated and loudly celebrated for her work in performance.