Vanessa Williams, Cicely Tyson on the Broadway Play The Trip to Bountiful
The Trip to Bountiful, originally released in 1953 as a teleplay on NBC, has now been revived featuring an all Black cast. This April The Trip to Bountiful will be taking a trip to Broadway, starring Emmy winner Cicely Tyson, Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (“Jerry Maguire,” “Red Tails”), Emmy Award nominee Vanessa Williams (“Ugly Betty,” “Desperate Housewives”), and Tony Award nominee Condola Rashad (Lifetime’s “Steel Magnolias,” Broadway’s Stick Fly).
This amazing story is about Carrie (Cicely Tyson) who lives in a cramped apartment with her son and daughter-in-law and wants to make one last trip home to Bountiful, Texas. Carrie’s son (Cuba Gooding Jr.) doesn’t think his elderly mother is strong enough to make the trip and her daughter-in-law (Vanessa Williams) doesn’t care for her very much, often making her feel like an imposition. However, her motive for not supporting the trip is based on the issue that she is surviving off of Carrie’s pension check. When Carrie escapes to make the trip home it sets an adventure in motion that has its serious and comedic moments, leaving you with a different prospective of the concept “home”.
All of the stars including director Michael Wilson and Hallie Foote, the daughter of the playwright as well as executor of his estate, gathered at Sardi’s Restaurant in New York City to talk to the press face to face about the production. We got some face time with the divas of the show including Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Condola Rashad as they shared their favorite moments and talked about their roles in the play!
Up first, the youngest member of the cast but not the least talented by far, Condola Rashad. In The Trip to Bountiful, Rashad plays the part of Thelma, better known as the “girl on the bus”. Rashad’s character meets Carrie as she is on her journey home- two women of contrasting ages going on two separate journeys. However, in the time that they sit next to each other on the bus they form a brief yet remarkable bond. That bond seems to continue even off stage when Rashad and Tyson are not in character.
“Cicely reinforces everything I have grown to know [about acting]. As long as you are honest and in the moment it will work,” says Rashad. When looking at the way that her character interacts with Tyson’s she doesn’t think she differs from her character in real life. “My character treated her as an adult. When I was a teenager and I would volunteer at nursing homes, I was respectful of people of a certain age not only just because of their age but in the way that allows them to have their freedom and decide what they want to do. My character doesn’t limit Carrie, she respects her journey.”
Cicely Tyson has not been on a Broadway stage since 1983 in her role for The Corn is Green, yet the iconic actress is the recipient of countless awards and is a living legend in her field. Sitting across from Tyson, her demeanor was calm and collected. You could feel the warmth of her spirit but there was also an air of regality that surrounded her.
When asked what she did to prepare for the role Tyson shared her approach to playing this character. “I went to Texas because I wanted to know what was it about this place that this woman needed to go back to. You cannot project anything about anybody unless you know their culture. You have to smell, feel, taste and breathe in order for you to honestly project that character. My method has always been to go where that person stems from.”
Tyson also speaks to the lesson about the way we treat and view our elders, which flows through the undercurrent of every interaction in this production. “One of the things that touches me about this character is that she is an elder and today there is such little respect for the elderly. They are tossed aside and put in a home and disregarded by family members and/ or close friends. I want the audience to leave with a greater appreciation of what we have to offer.” In essence, this is a role that Tyson always wanted to play. In an admiration for the movie adaption of the teleplay, Tyson told her agent immediately “to get me my Trip to Bountiful.” She was referring to one last great role which turned out to be none other than a role in this production. When talking about the kismet way in which she was led to this role Tyson jokingly says, “Be careful what you ask for, because you will get it.”
Vanessa Williams‘ most recent stint was on the show 666 Park Avenue, which was unfortunately short lived. Not long after, however, she found out that she was not going to continue the run on the small screen after she’d gotten the call that she will be getting a chance to show off her skills yet again on the big stage. Her character Jessie Mae makes no effort to hide her annoyance with her mother-in-law Carrie, thus there is a constant conflict between them. As Williams puts it “Mother Watts relishes the past. Jessie May loves the city. She couldn’t care less about the past. The past is too painful. Jessie may is forward in terms of her process and her intention. Mother Watts is always going back. Jessie Mae thinks that acknowledging the past is morbid. Mother Watts thinks that not acknowledging the past is unfeeling. Who’s right who’s wrong?”
When asked about what it was like to work with Tyson, Williams referenced a time when she was just a child watching Tyson playing Jane Pittman on television “Now we get to share a stage,” she says. “I’m living my dream.” Of course it can be surreal to work with someone you look up to. Williams adds, “I kind of have an out of body experience when I’m arguing with Cicely Tyson while we’re character.” Because we are proud to be divas, I couldn’t help but ask Williams how she felt about the extravagant diva qualities of her character. Her reply was that in comparison to the other characters she has played including Wilhelmina on Ugly Betty, she sees Jessie Mae as more of a wannabe. “Wilhelmina was a Diva. Jessie Mae aspires to be a diva. She is always reading her movie magazines and trying to do the hairstyles she sees in them.” In response to being often cast as the in the roles of the headstrong diva, Williams says, “The characters may not always be likable but they are interesting.”
From talking one on one with each of these women, you could feel the strong connection each of them had to the overall meaning of the story in The Trip to Bountiful. From the passion they each had in the telling of the story it is clear that they will bring the same exuberance to each of their roles on the stage. This is a play that holds relevance to anyone regardless of background or age and is definitely a must-see!
Previews for The Trip to Bountiful begin on March 30 and will officially open April 23, running for a 14- week engagement at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, located at 124 W. 43rd St. Tickets range from $37 to $142 and are currently available on Telecharge.com.