Driving Miss Daisy cast member, Maurey Richards, is all too familiar with the historical background of the play. He lived through those turbulent times of racial tension in America, the 25 year period from 1948 spanned by Alfred Uhry’s comedy drama.
The story of an elderly Jewish widow Daisy Werthan and her African-American chauffeur Hoke is told against key moments in US history reflecting race relations. Maurey plays Hoke, the driver who forms an unlikely friendship with Daisy. It’s a role he’s wanted to play since seeing the Oscar winning movie based on the play. He’s seen friends and fellow actors take the role in various productions but until now it has eluded him.
“Hoke has been in my DNA, my mind and my heart since I discovered him in the 1980s because his story is so familiar. He’s so like my grandfather and my people who were originally from Memphis.
“My grandfather worked on the railroads. The family was part of the great migration from Tennessee to Chicago. I was born in 1950s so the timeline of Driving Miss Daisy is familiar. I remember it all. Martin Luther King, the bombing of the Temple. I was eight when that happened. Even then I was aware what was going on in the world when those big events happened.”
The play feels as relevant as ever considering the current state of America. “It’s swung back round again. I despair. Racism is back on the rise again and has become all the fashion. But it’s a different feeling now. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle, you can’t go back to Jim Crow (the state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States until the mid- 1960s) but they can certainly be vocal about the hate. The hate is still around,” he says.
Hoke is a character he admires. He likes his dignity, his ability to stick up for himself, his growth and the fact that he’s embarrassed he can’t read and is able to hide that from people for so many years. “There are so many things to admire about Hoke but the main things are his straight back and his dignity,” he says.
Maurey first visited England in 1977, returning five years later as a member of The Platters vocal and recording group.
“We were touring, touring, touring. I longed to have a proscenium between me and the audience for once in my life just to see how it felt.”
Music had been the dream growing up. Eventually he pursued his musical dream, singing in his own stage show before joining The Platters. He performed in stage productions of Ain’t Misbehavin during breaks from the group and, after leaving them in 1991, followed his London West End debut in Carmen Jones with other musicals including Buddy, Starlight Express and Porgy & Bess.
He’s been resident in this country since 1985 and having ‘aged out of musicals’ – his days of all-singing, all dancing eight shows a week are over – he’s moved into non-musical theatre. “This is proper theatre and I’m excited to do it.”
Driving Miss Daisy opens at York Theatre Royal on Friday 7th June and runs until Saturday 29th June.