When you think of modern Broadway shows, what comes to mind are probably blockbuster musicals and huge ensemble casts… And that was true BEFORE Julie Taymor brought us SPIDER-MAN: Turn Off the Dark.
So it may come as a surprise to learn that Driving Miss Daisy — the stage play, from which the classic 1989 film was adapted — is now showing at the John Golden Theatre in New York City’s theatre district.
Starring Vanessa Redgrave as the titular Miss Daisy, James Earl Jones as her chauffeur Hoke, and Boyd Gaines as her son Boolie, the show was surprisingly engaging.
I say “surprisingly” because there’s really nothing innovative or new about Driving Miss Daisy. The screenplay for the well-known film was based on the play, so there wasn’t anything in the play’s script that surprised me. The set itself is remarkable only for how bare it is; essentially some common tables and chairs are adapted for each room in the story. Even the “car” itself is created from a chair and a bench when the action takes place in the vehicle.
So what’s so amazing about a well-known story made popular from an Academy Award-winning film, with hardly any visuals and a whole lot of dialogue between a very small cast? Quite simply, the caliber of the actors makes this show stand up and demand your attention.
The actors wisely avoid simply mimicking the performances of their screen counterparts. Redgrave comes across as slightly more sly and a bit less haughty than Jessica Tandy’s portrayal of Miss Daisy, and Jones comes off as a bit more exasperated and firm than I remember Morgan Freeman being. Of all of them, Gaines probably distances himself the most from the film character, seeming a bit less cheerful and more worrisome than Dan Akroyd was. Fortunately, none of them try too hard to escape our memory of the movie, so none of them are so different as to be a distraction. (See: Willy Wonka.)
This truly is a terrific play, with heartwarming performances from all three actors. If you’re going to be in New York City before April 9th, take the time to go see Driving Miss Daisy. It’s a perfect example of why a good script and good actors is sometimes all you need to make great theatre, with or without all the flashy extras we’ve come to expect from Broadway.