Don't Miss 'Daisy': Sit Back And Leave The 'Driving' To PBS

If the essence of television is to take you places you cannot go yourself, then Friday night’s “Great Performances” on PBS represents a rare instance when the trip is well worth taking.

Be prepared to be taken half-way ’round the world to a theater in Australia, where you will see performances by two of our most legendary actors in one of our best-loved plays, “Driving Miss Daisy.”

The two are Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones. They comprise two-thirds of the play’s entire cast, whose third role is played by Boyd Gaines. Gaines plays Boolie Werthan, grown son of Daisy Werthan (Lansbury). Boolie is the one who hires a driver for his aging mother, who is 72 years old when the play starts in 1948.

The man who Boolie hires is a former milk-truck driver named Hoke Colburn (Jones). The play is about the relationship that evolves over a period of more than 20 years between this black man and this Jewish widow as he serves as her chauffeur and they grow old together in the civil rights era. The play takes place in Atlanta.



This brief description is provided for those few who might be reading this who do not already know the scenario of “Driving Miss Daisy.” However, I suspect almost everybody else already knows this because the 1989 movie adapted from the play was a huge hit, and rightly so. It is so well-regarded that many people consider it to be one of the singular cultural highlights of its era.

It was awarded a Best Picture Oscar at the 1990 Academy Awards, and Jessica Tandy won a Best Actress Oscar in the role of Daisy. The principal performances in the “Driving Miss Daisy” movie – Tandy’s and Morgan Freeman’s (his portrayal of Hoke was masterful) -- were so memorable that anyone else assuming their roles will be inevitably compared to them.

And so will any other production of “Driving Miss Daisy,” whether it be a live stage play or a stage performance that’s been recorded for television – which happens to be the case with this performance coming to PBS Friday night (at 9 Eastern).

This performance took place during the play’s approximately two-month run in Melbourne, Australia, in April and May 2013. (Jones and Gaines had already played their roles in a 2010-11 “Daisy” production on Broadway, with Vanessa Redgrave as Daisy.)

It would be easy to nitpick about the differences between the 1989 movie and this stage production, but it would also be irrelevant. My own opinion is that the movie was more powerful than this stage version, but I loved watching this version anyway (on a preview DVD provide by PBS).

This is the kind of opportunity that should be savored – a chance to watch Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones work together in a beloved play, from the comfort of your own home, at no cost to you whatsoever, other than 90 minutes of your time.

It will be time well-spent.

“Driving Miss Daisy” airs on “Great Performances” Friday night (July 17) at 9 Eastern on PBS.

Next story loading loading..