Great Performances Presents Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones in Driving Miss Daisy Shot Live in Australia July 17
By: Ellis Nassour
Alfred Uhry’s 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Driving Miss Daisy, a three-year smash Off Broadway [1987-1990] and a 2010-201
1 hit on Broadway, comes to TV courtesy of PBS/Thirteen’s Great Performances starring two of the world’s greatest living actors five-time Tony and three-time Drama Desk winner and three-time Oscar nominee Angela Lansbury and two-time Tony and six-time DD winner and Oscar winner James Earl Jones. It airs Friday at 9 P.M. [with encore performances to follow].
Subsequent to the acclaimed Broadway revival and a West End run, co-starring Vanessa Redgrave and Mr. Jones, the play did boffo biz in five cities in Australia – Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney — starring Mr. Jones and Miss Lansbury. It was video-taped before a live audience at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre last year. The duo, both in their 80s, created a lively and fun tour crammed with sightseeing.
Mr. Jones received a Tony nomination and Miss Lansbury a Featured Actress DD nomination for their roles in the 2012 Tony nominated revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.
Miss Lansbury’s Daisy Werthan and Mr. Jones’ Hoke Colburn were joined by four-time Tony, and three-time DD winner Boyd Gaines, from the Broadway revival, as Miss Daisy’s exasperated son Boolie Werthan. David Esbjornson, who directed the Broadway revival, helmed the tour.
Mr. Jones says he wanted to do the play in Australia "and I was so pleased that Boyd wanted to do it, too. It was our first time doing it with Angela, and it was an absolutely joyous experience. The fact that she would go Down Under to do it with us was a knockout!"
"I had the great pleasure of working with two crackerjack actors," says Miss Lansbury. "If anyone needed the support that Daisy needs, I really had it. They are outstanding. James and I had read sections of the play together. When he asked me if I’d consider doing the tour, I jumped at the opportunity. I felt confident because I knew the chemistry was there."
Mr. Jones, who turned 82 during the tour, said he had great empathy with the dilemma that Miss Daisy faces in the play. "I know that when that day comes when they take the car keys away from me, it will break my heart. Those keys mean you can go where you want to go. They represent freedom and independence."
Driving Miss Daisy, set in mid-20th Century Atlanta, is timeless, searing, funny, and ultimately a hopeful meditation on race relations in America. Uhry told his loosely-autobiographical tale through the complex relationship between a stern, narrow-minded widowed, 72-year-old Jewish woman whose son deems too old to drive and hires an African American man as her long-suffering chauffeur. What begins as a troubled and hostile pairing, soon blossoms into a profound, life-altering friendship that transcends the societal boundaries placed between them.
From its landmark Off-Broadway production, the iconic play has warmed the hearts of millions worldwide. It had remarkable success as an 1989 Oscar-winning film adaptation starring Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, Dan Aykroyd, and Patti LuPone – with Miss Tandy taking home an Oscar and nominations for Freeman and Aykroyd.
Uhry is distinguished as the only American playwright to have won a Pulitzer Prize, an Oscar, and two Tonys. Other works include the book for the Jason Robert Brown musical Parade,The Last Night of Ballyhoo, the book and lyrics of the stage adaption of Eudora Welty’s The Robber Bridegroom, and the book for the Broadway musical of Kurt Weill’s LoveMusik (DD nomination).
Driving Miss Daisy was directed for the screen by Peter Ots, with set design by John Lee Beaty and incidental music by Mark Bennett. It was filmed by Broadway Near You in association with Umbrella Entertainment. The play was produced for the Australian tour by John Frost. Bill O’Donnell is Great Performances series producer, with David Horn as executive producer.
Great Performances is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, The Starr Foundation, The Agnes Varis Trust, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, The Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, and PBS viewers like you.