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Vanessa Williams Role In “The Trip To Bountiful” May Break Color Barriers

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After last year’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire ignited a debate over multiracial revivals of traditionally White productions, a new Broadway show prepares to open, starring Cicely Tyson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Williams and Condola Rashad.

Stars of the Broadway revival of Horton Foote’s classic The Trip to Bountiful expressed no worries about any possible controversy for featuring an all African-American cast. Indeed, preview performances earned rave reviews for the show, including three Drama League Award noms.

For Vanessa Williams, who plays the wife of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character, the play’s universal themes of aging, family and self-discovery break color barriers.

“This is a human story about a family. The fact that this family is Black during Jim Crow in Houston is one aspect,” she said. “It talks about aging, longing to go home and socioeconomic levels. Those are things we deal with now, and if it brings more [people] to Broadway it is fantastic.”

It’s taken some time for Cuba to head from Los Angeles to Broadway, due to a promise he made with his wife to wait until their children became older. It is the play’s theme of family and sacrifices that resonated deeply with him as he portrays an overprotective son to Cicely’s Carrie Watts character, who only wants to take a journey back to her hometown, Bountiful.

“It is transformative to be at that point in my life to question certain things and be asked to do certain things for our family,” Cuba said. “It’s about staying relevant and connected to the family in a way that shows support.”

As the character Thelma, Condola plays a young woman masking the pain of her husband being sent off to war. Similarly, Condola revealed a habit of not always allowing herself to feel negative emotions. “Thelma tries to not get into what that [pain] means. That’s similar to me, as a lot of times if something’s going on big I try to just get through it. My challenge is to accept what’s happening and say it’s okay to just have a moment.”

It is these lessons concerning family and self-discovery that Cicely hopes will inspire theatergoers of all colors to realize it’s never too late to learn in life—just as she is doing with her new role. “I learn something new every minute of the day to live life to its fullest,” said the Hollywood legend. “Every single second in life brings something new, and you become the sum total of your whole life’s experience.”

The Trip to Bountiful runs through the end of June at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.


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