It’s too bad Denzel Washington didn’t play Walter Lee, the dissatisfied 35-year-old protagonist of Lorraine Hansberry’s monumental 1959 African-American family drama “A Raisin in the Sun,” 25 years ago.
Now at age 59, there is no escaping the reality that Washington is simply too old to convincingly play the role, resulting in a fundamental imbalance and lack of credibility to the new Broadway revival.
By comparison, Sidney Poitier was just 32 years old when he originated the role and Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy) was 34 years old when he did the 2004 Broadway revival.
78-year-old stage and film veteran Diahann Carroll, who was to co-star as family matriarch Lena Younger, dropped out of the production during rehearsals. The role is now being played by 64-year-old LaTanya Richardson Jackson.
41-year-old Anika Noni Rose, who can still pass for a teenager, plays Walter Lee’s spirited 20-year-old sister Beneatha.
Although Combs gave an underwhelming performance in the 2004 revival, which was also directed by Kenny Leon, he was supported by an incredibly strong ensemble that included Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald, who each won Tony Awards.
In addition to the age issue, Washington overplays Walter Lee’s moodiness and often adds an inappropriately jocular and hammy tone, encouraging the audience to laugh during some of the play’s most heartbreaking moments.
Rose, who sparkles in scene after scene, ends up stealing the show. As Walter Lee’s wife Ruth, Sophie Okonedo comes off as one-dimensionally plain and stern. Jackson too is disappointing. David Cromer, best known as a director, is out of place as the community representative who tries to bribe the family to not move to a white suburb.
If you go:
“A Raisin in the Sun” plays at the Barrymore Theatre through June 15. 243 W. 47th St., 212-239-6200, telecharge.com.