Friday, February 8, 2008

Charles Dutton performs August Wilson

Speaking of Broadway, here is another Black History moment for the literary-minded.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was the play that put August Wilson on the path to glory as a writer. It also introduced the world to the acting of Charles S. Dutton. Dutton received a Tony Award nomination for his performance as Levee, a tormented trumpet player.

In his rave review in the New York Times in 1984, Frank Rich wrote:

“Mr. Dutton’s delineation of [Levee’s] tragic downfall is red-hot. A burly actor a year out of Yale, he is at first as jazzy as his music. ... But once he crash lands, the poison of self-hatred ravages his massive body and distorts his thundering voice. ...

“As Mr. Dutton careens about with unchecked, ever escalating turbulence, he transforms an anonymous Chicago bandroom into a burial ground for a race’s aspirations.”

I saw “Ma Rainey” in D.C. years ago with a local cast. Act One ends with a ferocious speech by Levee... a real acting showpiece.

I am streaming Charles Dutton’s reading of that speech, from the original Broadway cast recording.

Levee’s fellow band members have teased him about kissing up to a white record producer in hopes of getting financial backing for his own projects. Click here to hear what happens.


LeonX said...

A great play. I performed it in college with Lou Myers. I played Toledo. Lou Myers played Slow Drag.

I remember a few years ago they were trying to revive the show on Broadway. I went to see a preview. Whoopi Goldberg was playing Ma Rainey and Dutton was reprising his role of Levee. It wasn't the same. He was too old to be playing Levee

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Thanks for that, LeonX.

Yeah, I had no desire to see that revival.