NEW YORK (AP) — Move over, you adorable scamps in "Annie." Settle down, weird girls in "Matilda." Broadway has a new unlikely heroine, a frail widow who hums hymns and has a bad heart.
A first-rate revival of Horton Foote's "The Trip to Bountiful" opened Tuesday at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre determined to demonstrate that insight isn't the sole domain of the young.
A sublime Cicely Tyson returns to Broadway for the first time in 30 years to play Carrie Watts, the widow who shares a cramped two-room apartment in Houston in 1953 with her devoted son and overbearing daughter-in-law. Watts is always looking back, while her son and his wife look forward.
Watts' only desire is to revisit her old home in Bountiful and recapture the vitality and purpose she seemed to lose when she left for the big city decades ago.
"I've turned into a hateful, quarrelsome old woman. And before I leave this earth, I'd like to recover some of the dignity," she says. "The peace I used to know. For I'm going to die."
The casting here is splendid. Not only is Tyson feisty and funny and glowing with inner light, but her co-stars prove more than compelling: Vanessa Williams is politely savage as her preening daughter-in-law, icy without becoming a dragon. Cuba Gooding Jr., making his Broadway debut as her son, nails the kind man unfortunately caught in the middle of these two women. And the rising talent Condola Rashad, as a soldier's wife, turns a small role into a star turn.
Michael Wilson, a noted director of Foote and Tennessee Williams, lets the words and action flow with a genuine gentleness and respect that allows each eye roll, shuffle and sigh to have its maximum impact. The care and love all the creators have for this play pours out from the stage.
The widow Watts is not someone we must feel pity for — quite the opposite, we cheer her on. When her family is out, she strips off her pajamas to reveal a dress underneath and makes a mad escape to the bus station, and we're with her, clapping. Ditto when she persuades the sheriff (a sweet Tom Wopat) to not only release her from custody but also drive her to Bountiful.