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Blair Underwood in 'Streetcar': What did the critics think?

ReviewsThe Event (tv program)A Streetcar Named Desire (movie)Nicole Ari ParkerJessica TandyKarl MaldenMarlon Brando

The new Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams'"A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Broadhurst Theatre has one thing that distinguishes it from its predecessor productions -- it's performed by a cast of mostly African American actors.

Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker portray Stanley (first name only) and Blanche Du Bois in Williams' hot-house drama set in the French Quarter of New Orleans.Daphne Rubin-Vega plays the long-suffering Stella and Wood Harris plays Mitch.

Emily Mann, who is the artistic director the McCarter Theatre Company in New Jersey, directed the production. The play marks the Broadway debut for Underwood, whose many TV credits include "L.A. Law" and more recently"The Event."

"Streetcar" had its Broadway debut in 1947, starring Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. Brando was only 23 years old when he played Stanley Kowalski; Underwood, though just as strapping, is considerably older at 47.

The original Broadway production was directed by Elia Kazan, who would go on to direct the 1951 film version with Brando and Vivien Leigh.

What did critics think of the new revival? On at least one point they seemed to agree: The cast provides much in the way of eye candy.

The New York Times' Ben Brantley wrote that the cast doesn't "seem daunted by the ghosts of illustrious actors past" and that Underwood looks "smashing and appears to have spent many hours at the gym of late." The staging, however, is "an exquisite snooze" for the most part. 

David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter described the revival as uneven but also "a muscular staging driven by four compelling, sexy lead performances and a sturdy ensemble." Underwood creates "an impulsive, animalistic man in full command of his rude charms and sexual powers."

Variety's Marilyn Stasio praised the production for being good-looking in terms of casting and sets, but added that the beauty is "only skin deep." The visceralness of the staging comes "at the cost of psychological subtlety."

Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press wrote that an "excellent cast ... combines under taut directing from Emily Mann to create a fresh way to enjoy an iconic play." But at times, the four leads "seem to be each acting independently, as if they were following their own character arc without heed to the rest of the ballet."

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