Rainey Days: Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom to Close April 6

News   Rainey Days: Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom to Close April 6
Despite the presence of Academy Award winner Whoopi Goldberg and Charles S. Dutton, who starred in the original Broadway run, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will close April 6.
Charles S. Dutton in Ma Rainey
Charles S. Dutton in Ma Rainey Photo by Joan Marcus

The revival of the drama, currently playing the Royale Theatre, will have played 14 previews and 69 regular performances. Previews began Jan. 22 with an official opening Feb. 6; the limited run was originally scheduled to play through June 29.

It’s been a bumpy road for the Wilson revival. During the preview period, three of the show's actors were let go: Louis Zorich replaced George Di Cenzo in the role of Sturdyvant, Thomas Jefferson Byrd replaced Dick Anthony Williams as Toledo and Jack Davidson replaced Joe Siravo in the role of Irvin. Several previews were also canceled due to the hospitalization of the show's director and one of its actors: Carl Gordon, who plays Cutler, missed a few shows when he burst a blood vessel in his leg, and director Marion McClinton was also hospitalized at one point for extremely low potassium levels, “related to a continuing kidney and high blood-pressure problem.”

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.

* 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. An Academy Award winner for her role in "Ghost," Goldberg's numerous other screen credits include "The Color Purple," "Sister Act," "Boys on the Side" and "Star Trek: Nemesis."

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."

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