New York -- A RAISIN IN THE SUN: Drama. By Lorraine Hansberry. Directed by Kenny Leon. Starring Sean Combs, Audra McDonald, Phylicia Rashad, Sanaa Lathan.
He gets a hero's welcome from the juiced-up audience when he stumbles out of bed, the privilege and anticipation of a major star entering a new arena.
Billed here as Sean Combs in a Broadway revival of the Lorraine Hansberry classic "A Raisin in the Sun," the novice stage actor playing Walter Lee Younger is better known for his fast-changing rainbow of names, accomplishments and notoriety in other endeavors.
As a hip-hop megastar, producer, fashion mogul and acquitted criminal defendant on bribery and gun possession charges, P. Diddy (by way of Puffy and Puff Daddy) certainly didn't need Broadway to make his name. But in the splashiest legitimate stage crossover since Madonna's in David Mamet's "Speed the Plow," Combs is probably making an even longer and more audacious stretch. What could be farther from his celebrity-shine potency than a frustrated chauffeur character in 1950s Chicago who squanders his family's legacy on a half-baked dream of investing in a liquor store?
Combs' sleepy stagger onstage at the Royale Theatre, it turns out, is unhappily prophetic. In a performance that never gains authority or presence, this is a lusterless, dispiriting star turn. Combs doesn't preen or strut in a role famously created on Broadway and on film by Sidney Poitier. If anything, he clings helplessly to the shadows when the play demands that he step forward and shoulder the flexing emotional weight of the drama.
The problem is exacerbated by Kenny Leon's killingly deliberate direction, which only serves to spotlight Combs' flatness. Time and dramatic momentum stop whenever the actor is called on to summon Walter's impacted rage, doomed buoyancy and a final mustering of manhood. With his arms often dangling limply at his sides, his face frozen in a kind of pained blankness and his dialogue coming in an intelligible but uninflected blur, Combs wears the costumes and little more than that of his character. You can all but hear the whirr of his recently learned stagecraft, as he finds his marks, sets his body and unburdens himself of his lines.
To read the rest of this column, click here.
Or, for other reviews, see below: