Starring Academy Award winner Whoopi Goldberg and Tony nominee Charles S. Dutton, Ma Rainey began performances Jan. 22. Originally scheduled to begin previews Jan. 17, the producers of the play made the decision to delay the first preview due to the replacement of two of the show's actors.
As previously announced, Louis Zorich replaced George Di Cenzo in the role of Sturdyvant, and Thomas Jefferson Byrd replaced Dick Anthony Williams as Toledo. Jack Davidson also recently replaced Joe Siravo in the role of Irvin.
Also during previews, Carl Gordon, who plays Cutler, missed a few performances when he burst a blood vessel in his leg, although he is now back in the production. Director Marion McClinton was also hospitalized at one point for extremely low potassium levels, “related to a continuing kidney and high-blood-pressure problem.”
The production will mark Dutton's last performance on the stage. As the actor states in his remarkable Playbill bio: "I have done the theatre some service, and they know it...No more of that!"
Set in 1927 Chicago, the complete Ma Rainey's cast features Whoopi Goldberg as Ma Rainey, Charles S. Dutton as Levee, with Louis Zorich (Sturdyvant), Jack Davidson (Irvin), Carol Gordon (Cutler), Thomas Jefferson Byrd (Toledo), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Slow Drag), Tony Cucci (Policeman), Heather Alicia Simms (Dussie Mae) and Anthony Mackie (Sylvester). Tickets for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, priced between $50 and $80, are available by calling Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or by logging on to the Telecharge website at www.telecharge.com. Through Feb. 8, the production will play Monday and Wednesday-through-Saturday evenings at 8 PM, Tuesdays at 7 PM and Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2 PM. Beginning Feb. 11, the drama will play Tuesday evenings at 7 PM, Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2 PM and Sunday matinees at 3 PM.
Goldberg stars as blues singer Ma Rainey in the revival, and Dutton repeats the role he created in the show's original run, trumpet player Levee. The creative team comprises David Gallo (scenic design), Toni-Leslie James (costume design), Donald Holder (lighting design) and Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (sound design).
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, August Wilson's first work to arrive on Broadway, is a powerful account of a blues singer and the effect racism has on her life and career, and how anger bubbles inside musicians who are part of her world. Wilson followed Ma Rainey's with Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars and King Hedley II.
The Royale Theatre is located in New York City at 242 West 45th Street.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom opened at Broadway's Cort Theatre in Oct. 1984, playing 276 performances before closing in June 1985. Featuring direction by Lloyd Richards, the play cast Theresa Merritt in the title role. The remainder of the company featured John Carpenter, Lou Criscuolo, Scott Davenport-Richards, Charles S. Dutton, Leonard Jackson, Robert Judd, Christopher Loomis, Aleta Mitchell and Joe Senaca. Nominated for a Tony Award, Ma Rainey's won the 1984 New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
Whoopi Goldberg made her Broadway debut in her own one-woman show, Whoopi Goldberg. She later replaced Nathan Lane in the hit revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and she is currently represented on Broadway as one of the producers of the Tony winning musical Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Charles S. Dutton received a 1985 Tony Award nomination for his work in the original production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom; his other nomination came for another Wilson play, The Piano Lesson. Perhaps best known for his TV series "Roc," Dutton's other screen credits include roles in "No Mercy," "A Low Down Dirty Shame," "Nick of Time," "Blind Faith" and "Black Dog."