By Andrew Gans
21 Feb 2003
In celebration of Black History Month, the August Wilson play will offer a special evening that features a post-performance audience talkback with Academy Award winner Goldberg and the cast of the drama. Tom Joyner, a philanthropist and host of the "Tom Joyner Morning Show," will moderate the discussion.
A portion of each ticket purchased for the Feb. 25 evening will benefit The Tom Joyner Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps African American students complete their college education. Each month, the organization selects one of the Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to receive the funds raised during that particular month. Scholarships are then awarded through the Financial Aid department of that college or university.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom plays the Royale Theatre, which is located in New York City at 242 West 45th Street. Tickets, priced between $50 and $80, are available by calling Telecharge at (212) 239-6200; mention the code word "Joyner," and a portion of the ticket will be donated to The Tom Joyner Foundation. The drama plays 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.
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).
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.
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."