Critics Divided on Diddy Broadway Debut

04/27/2004 9:00AM



The highly anticipated Broadway acting debut of Sean "P. Diddy" Combs in the revival of Lorraine Hansberry's once-groundbreaking Raisin in the Sun was received with a split decision by the critics: two good notices (in the tabloids) and two fairly humiliating notices (in the broadsheets).

Clive Barnes in the New York Post found Diddy, who is listed as "Sean Combs" in the Playbill, "pretty damn good," even if he did not measure up to the original star in the role, Sidney Poitier (on Broadway in 1959 and onscreen in 1961). Boiled down, Barnes's review says that Combs, 34, exceeded expectations, though it appears that the veteran critic's expectations weren't all that high.

Howard Kissel in New York's Daily News is even kinder, saying that the 34-year-old has plenty of stage presence and can deliver the play's humorous lines as well as convey the charm of his character, Walter Lee Younger, a chauffeur who dreams of being wealthy. Combs's only failing in the role, the critic opines, comes when having to show Walter Lee's inner turmoil.

The New York Times's Ben Brantley could not agree more with Kissel, though goes deeper to say that Combs's lack of acting chops throws the production dangerously off-balance, though it takes some time before answering the question of whether Combs can handle the role.

While singing the praises of costars Audra McDonald and Phylicia Rashad, Brantley says the answer to the question is a resounding no.

From out of town, but still close enough to wield influence, critic Peter Marks in The Washington Post also found Combs too weightless for the weighty drama, and outright ridiculous as a struggling young African American trying to break out of his modest circumstances.

The play's usually tearful climax, says Marks, ended up eliciting laughter -- at the actor.
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