Original Broadway production
The original Broadway production was produced by Irene Mayer Selznick. It opened at the Shubert in New Haven shortly before moving to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on December 3, 1947. Selznick originally wanted to cast Margaret Sullavan and John Garfield, but settled on Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy, who were virtual unknowns at the time. Brando was given car fare to Tennessee Williams' home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he not only gave a sensational reading, but did some house repairs as well.The problem with casting Brando as Stanley was that he was much younger than the character as written by Williams. However, after the meeting between Brando and Williams, the playwright eagerly agreed that Brando would make an ideal Stanley. Williams believed that by casting a younger actor, the Neanderthalish Kowalski would evolve from being a vicious older man to someone whose unintentional cruelty can be attributed to his youthful ignorance. Brando ultimately was dissatisfied with his performance, though, saying he never was able to bring out the humor of the character, which was ironic as his characterization often drew laughs from the audience at the expense of Jessica Tandy's Blanche Dubois. Tandy was cast after Williams saw her performance in a West Coast production of his one-act play Portrait of a Madonna. The opening night cast also included Kim Hunter as Stella and Karl Malden as Mitch. Despite its shocking scenes and gritty dialogue, the audience applauded for half an hour after the debut performance ended. Brooks Atkinson, reviewing the opening in The New York Times described Tandy's "superb performance" as "almost incredibly true," concluding that Williams "has spun a poignant and luminous story." Later in the run, Uta Hagen replaced Tandy, Carmelita Pope replaced Hunter, and Anthony Quinn replaced Brando. Hagen and Quinn took the show on a national tour and then returned to Broadway for additional performances. Early on, when Brando broke his nose, Jack Palance took over his role. Ralph Meeker also took on the part of Stanley both in the Broadway and touring companies. Tandy received a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play in 1948, sharing the honor with Judith Anderson's portrayal of Medea and with Katharine Cornell. Brando portrayed Stanley with an overt sexuality combined with a boyish vulnerability that made his portrait of Stanley, and especially the moment where he howls "Stella!" for his wife, into cultural touchstones. Brando's appearance as Stanley on stage and on screen revolutionized American acting by introducing "The Method" or "Method acting" into American consciousness and culture.
Uta Hagen's Blanche on the national tour was directed not by Elia Kazan, who had directed the Broadway production, but by Harold Clurman, and it has been reported, both in interviews by Hagen and observations by contemporary critics, that the Clurman-directed interpretation shifted the focus of audience sympathy back to Blanche and away from Stanley (where the Kazan/Brando/Tandy version had located it).
The original Broadway production closed after 855 performances in 1949.