Act 2 of Tennessee Williams’ 1955 feuding-family epic always ends with a display of fireworks. But here, they’re almost unnecessary. We’ve been watching them for an hour.
The pyrotechnics are courtesy of James Earl Jones, whose blustery Big Daddy anchors this uneven revival. He forges a genuine bond with Phylicia Rashad (though she’s too svelte and wise-eyed for the dim, blubbery Big Mama). He brings out the best in Terrence Howard, an Oscar nominee (Hustle & Flow) who’d never been on stage, as closeted alcoholic Brick. Jones effortlessly captures what Williams loved about Big Daddy: his ”crude eloquence.” It’s the way he relishes a jab about ”cuttin’…a piece o’ poon-tang,” roars in disgust over ”goddam lies and liars.”
To jazz things up while Jones is gone (Act 1, most of Act 3), director Debbie Allen does everything but add an interpretive-dance break: As Brick’s edgy wife, Maggie ”the Cat,” Anika Noni Rose strikes a series of seductive feline poses as she soliloquizes. Giancarlo Esposito (Brick’s bitter brother) and Lisa Arrindell Anderson (his perma-pregnant spouse) mug and double-take like sitcom sidekicks. Did we mention the live saxophonist? Allen’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is definitely a crowd-pleasing comedy. The thing is…Williams wrote a tragedy. (Tickets: 212-239-6200) C+