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“There’s always that ghost of the iconic production _ Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy. For me, I can’t even deal with that. I mean, you really can’t. You can’t deal with something that’s so beloved and so brilliant on every level,” says Underwood.

“All you can do is instead of looking up and trying to grasp something that’s already been done is look inwardly and as they did I’m sure at the very beginning, try to create this story and tell this story.”

The producers of this “Streetcar” have one thing up their sleeves: Their production will likely feel the most like New Orleans. Besides having mixed-race actors reflect the population of New Orleans, the incidental music is being written by jazz luminary Terence Blanchard, a native of the Crescent City.

“New Orleans is a gumbo of culture and history and races _ French, Spanish, African and all of those mixtures of people. So it’s kind of appropriate that we would do this kind of production,” says Underwood.

He adds that both Parker and Rubin-Vega both have lighter skin than he does, adding a special dimension to the story. “It makes sense specifically in the world of the South and New Orleans to have that perspective from Blanche to look down upon this dark-complexioned man. It will resonate in a unique way.”

Underwood views his Stanley _ in this show, the Polish last name Kowalski will be dropped _ as a man-child, and the actor has clearly worked hard to reconcile his character’s obvious failings with Underwood’s natural sympathy for anyone he plays: “I do like Stanley very much. I don’t like what he does. He’s a flawed person, to say the least.”

Mann says she’s watched Underwood transform himself from a Carnegie Mellon-trained actor into an uneducated swine with no interest in poetry or art. “He knows that’s the task and he can’t wait to do that because he wants to stretch. You don’t want always to play yourself. He’s going to create his own Stanley that’s to be different from any other Stanley. It comes from a different place.”

Though mostly known for TV, Underwood has frequently returned to the stage, a place he calls his “foundation.” He was in a New York revival of “Purlie” opposite Anika Noni Rose, “Measure for Measure” at The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park series in 1993 and “Love Letters” with Alfre Woodard. He also created and starred in the one-man show “IM4: From the Mountaintop to Hip Hop,” which was written by his brother Frank.

Underwood says these days he’s just as happy staying off-camera, producing, directing or helping write projects. This month, he’ll star in “Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day,” the second installment of Bishop T.D. Jakes’ franchise. Underwood’s fourth Tennyson “Ten” Hardwick book, “South by Southeast,” will be out in the fall.

“I’ve been very fortunate, but a lot of hard work goes with that good fortune,” he says.




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