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.