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Meet ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ catalyst Roosevelt Stewart


Levee BOn stage through March 11 in the Foulds Theatre at the Alliance for the Arts is Theatre Conspiracy’s production of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Playing the role of volatile trumpeter Levee is Roosevelt Stewart.

Although the play’s title might lead you to conclude that Ma Rainey is the star of the story, Levee is the catalyst for much of the dialogue and action that takes place. Where each of the other characters accept their lot in life with varying degrees of resignation, Levee ELevee is determined to change his circumstances. He possesses both musical talent and vision, and has written updated versions of Ma’s songs that reflect the style and trends popular outside of the deep south. He thinks he’s going to sell his music to Ma’s record label. Hell, he’s convinced he’ll be able to form his own band to record the songs himself.

But this is not Levee’s story. It’s August Wilson’s. And August Wilson wants you, me and everyone else to know in no uncertain terms that aspiring black artists were treated with rare exceptions pretty darn shabbily in the late 1920s. And in Levee Ishort order, Ma (played by Cantrella Canady) lets Levee know she won’t be performing his version of her old standbys. More, he won’t be performing with Ma and the boys at all. And the record producer, an opportunist by the name of Sturdyvant (played by Patrick Day), informs Levee he’s not getting a record deal, won’t need to form any band, and will only pay him $5 per song to take them off his hands.

Not surprisingly, Levee’s simmering resentment toward life boils over, erupting in violence like Vesuvius. Knife Fight AIt’s a difficult role because of the gamut of emotions that Levee traverses as he descends from the heights of hopefulness to the depths of despair. Stewart is equal to the task. He portrays the whole range of emotions with nuance and gradation, perhaps because he understands his character and the world of music so intimately. Knife Fight EJust 27, Roosevelt is a musician, singer, songwriter and producer. As the owner of Rozart Musiq, a non-profit geared toward teaching all youth the aspects of music, he is diligently working to open a stationed after-school music program for youth.

Ironically, one of his characters rawest moments in the story involves a vehement diatribe against God, himself. Stewart also understands crises of faith and sickness unto death (in a Kierkegaard sort of way). That’s because he also serves as the Minister of Music and Youth Pastor for Mount Hermon Levee and Dussie Mae CMinisteries.

All the performances in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom are powerful, but Stewart’s is particularly compelling. His performance alone justifies the price of admission. Don’t miss Roosevelt Stewart in Theatre Conspiracy’s production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

February 27, 2017.




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