‘Driving Miss Daisy’ on Broadway: What did the critics think?

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It’s hard to believe that Alfred Uhry’s beloved play ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ has never before been performed on Broadway. With James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave in the lead roles, the drama has found marquee-brand actors whose presence has turned the new production into an event.

‘Driving Miss Daisy’ opened at the off-Broadway Playwrights Horizons in 1987 and proved a smash hit with audiences. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama the following year and spawned the 1989 film version, starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, that went on to win multiple Oscars, including best picture, actress and adapted screenplay.

The new Broadway production, directed by David Esbjornson, opened Monday at the John Golden Theatre. The play follows the often-complicated relationship between Daisy Werthan (Redgrave), an elderly Georgia widow, and her chauffeur, Hoke (Jones), over the course of nearly 25 years. Along for the emotional ride is Miss Daisy’s son, Boolie (Boyd Gaines).

Skeptics have wondered whether the very British Redgrave could pull off the role of Miss Daisy and if Jones was right for the role of Hoke. But the New York critics appear to have been won over by their performances.


Ben Brantley of the New York Times praised the two lead actors, writing that ‘Ms. Redgrave and Mr. Jones... calmly but forcefully grab our attention and hold it, without appearing even to try.’ The critic had less kind things to say about the play overall, calling it ‘a very slender work’ and ‘little more than a series of sketches with the gentle, laugh-a-little-cry-a-little rhythms of a sentimental sitcom.’ The New York Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote that the lead actors ‘bask in the spotlight without ever appearing to hog it. The result isn’t so much a clash of the titans as a delicate, respectful rubbing of elbows.’ The critic also commended the production’s spare, nearly minimalist visual style, which conjures ‘Miss Daisy’s successive vehicles with just a steering wheel, a chair and a bench.’

Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal wrote that ‘this is as fine a production of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ as I can imagine.’ The reviewer also lauded Jones’ performance as ‘a wholly personal spin on the part ... he’s giving a performance that is going to be talked about for the rest of his life—and after.’

Variety’s Marilyn Stasio echoed the praise for the lead actors, writing ‘Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones could do this show buried up to their necks in a pit and still break your heart.’ The reviewer added that Redgrave is ‘still astonishing at 73' and possesses ‘the age as well as the regal stature’ of her character.

Elysa Gardner of USA Today wrote that Redgrave’s and Jones’ performances ‘rank with their best, most revelatory work.’ As for the play itself, the reviewer wrote that Uhry’s text, ‘for all its social consciousness and humble charm, isn’t long on emotional or psychological nuance.’

-- David Ng