In a symmetrical bit of casting for a show that first won acclaim as a television play in 1953, the Ahmanson Theatre’s fall production of “The Trip to Bountiful” will add Vanessa Williams and Blair Underwood to previously-announced star Cicely Tyson, providing a live experience of an acting troika that first performed Horton Foote's script together in a Lifetime television production that began airing in March.
Tyson repeats the role of Carrie Watts, an elderly woman with family pressures who yearns for one last visit to the Texas hamlet where she grew up. Her portrayal won her the Tony Award for actress last year, capping a triumphant return to Broadway after 30 years.
Center Theatre Group, the Ahmanson’s parent, announced Wednesday that Williams, who played Tyson’s dissatisfied daughter-in-law both on Broadway and in the TV movie, will play the part again in the Sept. 17 to Nov. 2 L.A. run. Blair Underwood, who played Tyson’s son in the movie but wasn’t in the Broadway production, will get to transfer his interpretation to the stage.
For Underwood, it means a summer and fall trodding Southern California stages. He’s booked to play the lead in “Othello” at the Old Globe in San Diego from June 22 to July 27, with Richard Thomas as Iago and Kristen Connolly from Netflix’s “House of Cards” as Desdemona.
Tyson has already received a double rave as Carrie from Los Angeles Times reviewers. Theater critic Charles McNulty found her Broadway turn in "The Trip to Bountiful" “a wonderful addition to a long and varied stage and screen career,” and television critic Mary McNamara's assessment of the Lifetime movie noted that “with her shining ageless eyes and effortless physical grace, Tyson is quietly but relentlessly hypnotic in all she does.”
At the Ahmanson, McNulty will be looking for improvement from Williams, whom he found “too glamorously put together for her character” on Broadway and unable to establish any chemistry with Cuba Gooding Jr. as her husband. McNamara had no complaints about Williams opposite Underwood on TV, finding both “eloquent and fine.”
A Los Angeles Times review pronounced Williams “indeed something to see” in her previous turn at the Ahmanson in 2002, playing the Witch in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical, “Into the Woods.”