Learned, Nichols Star in Alhambra Theatre's DRIVING MISS DAISY, 2/2
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by BWW News Desk
Winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 and the Oscar for Best Picture in 1989, "Driving Miss Daisy" is opening at the Alhambra Theatre on February 5. Appropriate for a play of such esteem, the Alhambra has brought in not one, as has been its custom of late, but two stars to carry the show: four-time Emmy Award Winner, Michael Learned will star as Daisy Werthan and Lance Nichols, star of the HBO series TREME, as her chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn. This will be the fourth time Learned and Nichols will star together in "Driving Miss Daisy." Rounding out the three-person cast is Michael Edward Hodge, a New York actor who plays Daisy's son, Boolie Werthan.
"Driving Miss Daisy" was first staged at New York's Playwright Horizons and ran for nearly 1,200 Off Broadway performances. Written by Alfred Uhry in 1987, the play traces the relationship between an elderly Southern Jewish widow (Learned) and her African-American driver (Nichols). Set primarily in 1950's and 1960's, the show blends the civil rights themes of the era with what is sometimes described as a bit of a love story.
Said Executive Director, Todd Booth, "This is a moving, touching, warm show that really recognizes the times and the places of the era in our nation's history." He continued, "Michael and Lance are so wonderful together. The audience will be treated to a fantastic acting experience, a great performance and a touching story." Interestingly, Booth reports, after 46 seasons, this is the first drama every performed at the Alhambra.
Intelligent, sometimes with a stern aura, yet attractive, warm and inviting, Michael Learned was a stage actress virtually unknown to TV viewers when she was cast as Olivia Walton, mother of John-Boy and the others, in the long-running CBS series "The Waltons" (1972-81). A mother of three by the time she was 24, Learned honed her craft primarily at The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, where she performed leading roles in such classics as "Under Milk Wood," "Tartuffe" and "Private Lives". She remained with the series until 1980 (a year before it ended its run). During her tenure on the series, Learned earned three Best Actress Emmy Awards (1973, 1974, 1976) for her turn as the stalwart matriarch. She continued her TV success with the medically themed "Nurse" (CBS, 1981-82), which earned her a fourth Emmy. In 1989, she acted in sitcoms as den mother for models on ABC's "Living Dolls", a spin-off from "Who's the Boss?" which also starred Halle Berry.
Learned also worked in longer form TV, beginning with "Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Guy" (ABC, 1974). Other roles include as one of several Floridians trying to survive a "Hurricane" (ABC, 1974) and tennis instructor to "Little Mo" (NBC, 1978). Learned also appeared in two well-received adaptations of stage plays: a Showtime adaptation of William Inge's "Picnic" (1986) and a PBS adaptation of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" (1987). Subsequent roles have included the plantation wife of the owner of Kunta Kinte in "Roots: The Gift" (ABC, 1988), the mother of Suzanne Somers and wife of her alcoholic father in "Keeping Secrets" (ABC, 1991), and the mother of the victim in "Murder in New Hampshire: The Pamela Smart Story" (NBC, 1991). Learned has also reprised her most famous role as Olivia Walton in several reunion films on both NBC (1982) and CBS (1993, 1995 and 1997).
Throughout two decades of TV stardom, Learned has remained true to her stage roots. She replaced Jane Alexander as the successful banker eldest sibling in Wendy Wasserstein's "The Sisters Rosensweig" on Broadway. Among other recent stage roles were Brian Friel's "Dancing at Lughnasa" and an acclaimed Los Angeles production of Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Three Tall Women."
New Orleans actor, Lance Nichols, currently stars in the Emmy nominated HBO drama series TREME, which follows several New Orleans natives as they try to rebuild their lives after the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina. Nichols plays the dentist 'Larry Williams', supportive and devoted husband to 'LaDonna Baptiste-Williams' (Khandi Alexander) and loving father to his two stepchildren.
Born in the 12th ward of New Orleans, Nichols grew up attending McDonough 35. He remained in the city through his college years, attending the University of New Orleans in 1973. Having begun as a pre-med major, Nichols knew quickly that it was not his calling. A freshman drama class spurred his decision to change his major, which resulted in a GPA jump and a Bachelors degree in Dramatic Arts and Communications. Not one to give up on his true passion for acting, Nichols made the decision to move to Los Angeles in 1978 where he quickly landed his first on-screen gig on the widely popular game show "The Dating Game."
Nichols is most widely known for his role as the preacher in the 2008 Academy Award- nominated film, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, alongside Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Following the success of this role, Nichols landed a part in the Warner Bros. summer blockbuster THE CAMPAIGN (2012), starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. Throughout his 30+ years of acting, spanning from the early 1980s to present day, Nichols has made over 75 appearances on multiple award winning and critically acclaimed television series including: CHEERS, MURDER SHE WROTE, MATLOCK, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.
Nichols is currently filming the fourth and final season of TREME, and has recently wrapped filming on the feature film adaptation of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES alongside Academy Award nominee Viola Davis and Academy Award winning actress Emma Thompson.
The Menu: As he does for all of the Alhambra's shows, new Executive Chef DeJuan Roy has created a menu unique to the themes ofeach show. For Driving Miss Daisy, Roy presents a menu with southern themes, including a choice of starters, Piggly Wiggly Salad featuring spinach with hard-boiled egg, tomato, red onion, warm beef bacon vinaigrette and honey mustard dressings, or Fried Green Tomatoes. For entrees, guests canchoose from a house-corned Corned Beef Brisket served with steamed cabbage and potato latkes, Southern Style Catfish with cheese grits and pole beans and Cornbread Stuffing-topped Pork Chop with white rice and pole beans, and Vegetable Lasagna. For dessert, Chess Pie with Fresh Berry Compote or Red Velvet Cake. The Alhambra's dinner service is now plated and served to the table.
Driving Miss Daisy runs February 5 through March 17. Shows start at 8:00 PM for evening shows Tuesday through Sunday. Doors open at 5:45 PM and dinner will be served until 7:30 PM. Matinees on Saturday are at 1:15 PM. Doors open at 11:00 AM and brunch starts at 11:15 AM. Sunday matinee is at 2:00. Doors open at noon and the meal start at 12:15 PM. Group sales are available. Regular pricing for tickets starts at $46 for adults and $35 for children. Ticket price includes dinner, show and parking. Call the box office at 904.641.1212 or www.alhambrajax.com.
The Alhambra Theatre is the nation's longest continuously operating professional dinner theatre and the only professional resident theatre between Atlanta and Miami. Opened in 1967, The Alhambra has hosted legends such as Tony Curtis, Claude Aiken, Sid Cesar and Cesar Romero, and, recently, Sally Struthers, Barry Williams, Loretta Swit and Jamie Farr. The Alhambra was the place of Betty Grable's final acting role. In November 2009, the Alhambra was purchased by Theatre Partners, LLC, headed by Jacksonville entrepreneur and Alhambra patron, Craig Smith as way to give back to Jacksonville and preserve what he believes is one of its cultural jewels.