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.