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‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ Opens at Taper to Starry Crowd

Malcolm Jamal Warner Phylicia Rashad
Ryan Miller/REX/Shutterstock

The opening-night crowd at the Mark Taper Forum’s opening of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” showed the esteem with which director Phylicia Rashad is held in Los Angeles.

The guest list included Debbie Allen, Angela Bassett, Matthew Weiner, Chandra Wilson, Louis Gossett Jr., Merle Dandridge, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Dawnn Lewis and Dulé Hill, as well as actors from “Greenleaf” and “Empire” on Sunday at the show and the crowded afterparty at Kendall’s Brasserie.

Center Theater Group artistic director Michael Ritchie said Rashad has directed some shows at the Taper. “When she was directing ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’ two years ago, I said to her, ‘What’s next?’ And she said, ‘Tell me what you want to do next.’

“And I said, ‘the one thing I want to do is I want to complete the August Wilson cycle. We’ve now done eight out of the ten. We have two left, “Ma Rainey” and ‘Fences.”‘ I said, ‘Let’s do “Ma Rainey” next.’ And she said, ‘Yes.'”

As for “Fences,” which is still to come, Ritchie would just say, “We’re in conversations.”

“I think I’ve been invited to do this at the right time,” Rashad said.

“It’s been amazing,” Rashad said of directing the play. “I’m working with a wonderful cast, in the perfect theater, with complete and total support by the theater itself. A great play, marvelous creative team, and it’s wonderful to explore his [Wilson’s] works again, and again and again. Because there’s always so much more to discover. No matter what you think you know, there’s always more.

“Everytime, even in rehearsal, every day, there is something new that occurs to us, to all of us. And we’ve been listening to the text every day for the past four weeks. And then we’ll hear something in a new way, and understand its purpose in a new way. And that’s exciting for us.”