NEW YORK - Katie Holmes made her Broadway debut in "All My Sons," and her husband Tom Cruise thought it was a knockout.
When asked for his verdict on Holmes' performance, Cruise stopped for a moment while moving through the crowd at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Thursday night, telling The Associated Press: "Did you see it? ... It was extraordinary."
Hundreds of people bought tickets to see Holmes act on Broadway for the first time in a preview performance for the revival of "All My Sons," co-starring John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest and Patrick Wilson.
The audience collectively gasped when Cruise entered the theater moments before the curtain went up. While anti-Scientology protesters demonstrated outside, the movie star — and Hollywood's most famous Scientologist — mingled and shook hands with some other theatergoers who took photos and clapped. He then hugged Dustin Hoffman, who was sitting a few rows away, which drew another cheer inside the theater.
Amid the hubbub, it took awhile for people to take their seats. Then the moment they'd been waiting for arrived: Holmes and her fellow cast members stepped out on stage to start the play, which officially opens Oct. 16.
If Holmes felt nervous and jittery, she didn't show it. She delivered her lines with confidence and projected her girlish voice so it could be heard loud and clear. She danced around on stage with gusto. She looked lovely in two dresses that highlighted her trim yet shapely figure. She wore a brown shoulder-length hairpiece to hide her trendy pixie cut.
And she received a standing ovation afterward. It's safe to say that no one probably clapped harder than Cruise.
"All My Sons" concerns businessman Joe Keller (Lithgow) whose factory supplied defective cylinder parts to the military, resulting in the deaths of 21 pilots during World War II. Yet it was his business partner who went to jail for the mistake.
Wiest plays Keller's wife; Wilson his idealistic son; and Holmes the son's fiancee and daughter of Keller's disgraced partner.
The role calls for Holmes' character — named Ann — to be at turns winsome and willful, and theatergoer Diane Yatauro thinks she nailed it.
"It was a very tough role in that she had to be delicate and hurt and strong," said Yatauro, 54, of Glen Cove, N.Y. "She was playing against some heavyweights who've been around for a long time and she held her own."
New Yorker Nadja Forbes, 35, said she was impressed by Holmes' stage presence having known her recently as Mrs. Tom Cruise.
"She brings this fresh breeze of air not only in her acting but also in her dialogue that kind of breaks up the seriousness of what's going on," Forbes said. "I'm actually surprised that she's, you know, enough of an actress for being on Broadway."
Holmes starred in the popular teen drama "Dawson's Creek," and has appeared in such films as "The Ice Storm," "Wonder Boys," "Disturbing Behavior," "Thank You For Smoking," "Batman Begins" and "Mad Money."
The 29-year-old star — accompanied by Lithgow, not Cruise — stopped to pose for photographers outside and called her performance "fine." She and Lithgow then jumped into a black SUV that sped them away from the surrounding media and fan frenzy. More than 200 bystanders had gathered across the street to watch Holmes leave the theater as police officers on foot and horseback patrolled the scene.
Not among the observers: the roughly 30 Scientology protesters from a group called Anonymous who demonstrated before the show behind a barricade, loudly chanting "Scientology kills!" Some wore masks like in the movie "V for Vendetta," and one poster read: "FREE KATIE."
Melissa Doyle tried to ignore the ruckus. She said she took her spot in line early, and saw Holmes rush into the theater wearing skinny jeans, a black blazer and oversized sunglasses.
"I love Katie Holmes," the 27-year-old New Yorker said. "I think she's a great actress and right now, I really love her for her fashion, her style! I think she really kind of differentiates herself among young Hollywood. Plus, she's a mom — and I just think she's a really good role model."
Meanwhile, 27-year-old Alistair Savides, visiting from St. Louis, said he wasn't there to see Holmes. He said he's a fan of Arthur Miller's drama, which first played on Broadway in 1947.
"I don't really care about who's performing as long as they're good at what they do and it's a good play," Savides said.
As protesters' chants grew louder, Savides called it "surreal to be right in the middle of this thing. But, you know, there's always two sides to every story and they just really strongly believe in one side of the story. ... If it adds to public debate, maybe that's a good thing."
Cruise's membership in the Church of Scientology has made him a controversial target of criticism. And last year, Jada Pinkett Smith felt compelled to deny her good friend Holmes is a prisoner in her marriage to Cruise, who's been depicted by the tabloids as a controlling husband