'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' to sizzle
Leads in Westminster show mentoring the younger understudies
March 13, 2005
Deseret Morning News
By Ivan M. Lincoln
A few weeks ago, as Michael Vought was conducting auditions for "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," he had "this whole feeling of deja vu."
It took the associate professor at Westminster College back 20 years when he was a teenager auditioning at the University of Hawaii for the same production. Vought was cast as Brick, the heavy-drinking, tormented former football star of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
"But I was way too young at the time," Vought said. "You need some life experience to play Tennessee Williams' characters, and the students auditioning were just too young.
"Then I had this brainstorm about casting the understudies, and I talked to Ron Frederickson and Jayne Luke (who are playing Big Daddy and Big Mama) about how they felt about being mentors for the younger players." Not only are Frederickson and Luke actors, they're both educators as well, and they were excited to work with the young cast members, said Vought (pronounced Voe ).
So he cast several older, much more seasoned performers in the production's six leading roles, then kept a half-dozen student auditioners on as understudies. On the final Saturday of the show's two-week run, all of the understudies will perform during a free matinee.
In addition to Frederickson and Luke, playing the aging patriarch and matriarch of a wealthy but dysfunctional Southern family, Vought has Ashlee LaPine playing Maggie, the sultry wife of Brick (David Neisler), whose constant drinking and abusive behavior are threatening their marriage.
Jeff Nichols and Jessica Shurtleff play Gooper, Brick's older brother, and his overbearing wife, Mae, who will stop at nothing to keep the family's fortunes from falling into what they consider the wrong hands.
Two students - Andrew Waterhouse and Brian Draney - are cast as Dr. Baugh and Rev. Tooker.
Allison Gesink and Robinson and Grady Vought will play Gooper and Mae's rambunctious children, Dixie, Buster and Sonny.
Another well-known local actress, Tommie St. Cyr, is acting as vocal coach for the cast and the understudies.
Both Frederickson and Luke are familiar with Tennessee Williams' works. Frederickson directed the Babcock Theatre's recent production of "The Glass Menagerie," and Luke, a local Equity actress, has previously performed in such Williams works as "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Summer and Smoke,"
"Twenty-Seven Wagonloads of Cotton" and "This Property Is Condemned." And, 22 years ago, she was in a production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
"As far as an educational experience for the understudies, this has been a dream situation," said Vought, who is using Broadway director Elia Kazan's early adaptation of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," which contains some changes from Williams' original script.
Those who are familiar only with the 1958 screen version, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, will notice quite a few differences in the stage version, which is slightly more sexually explicit, alluding to Brick's alleged homosexuality. Due to the Hollywood Production Code restrictions in place at the time, the topic never comes up in the watered-down film version.
But the basic plot is the same, with the action revolving around Big Daddy Pollitt's 65th birthday and the contention over who will eventually inherit the estate. (Big Daddy claims to be in good health, but he is, in fact, suffering from terminal cancer.)
Vought said Westminster's production is opening within one week of what would mark the 50th anniversary of the premiere "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" on Broadway, where it played for 694 performances at the Morosco Theatre.
(Barbara Bel Geddes and Ben Gazzara starred in the Broadway production, along with Burl Ives, who reprised his role of Big Daddy in the film.)