There is no custom code to display.

‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ showcases riveting performances by Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis

‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ showcases riveting performances by Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis

Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death will draw understandable attention to “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which represents his final role. Yet that focus shouldn’t overshadow the riveting performances that elevate this small-scale Netflix movie, adapted from the August Wilson play with its somewhat claustrophobic stage origins very much intact.

Although constructed as an ensemble piece, Viola Davis’ turn as the title character — the “Mother of the Blues” of the 1920s — and Boseman’s as her ambitious trumpet player stand out, reflecting how the era’s racial inequality translated into thinly concealed rage. On that score, the film’s lessons echo into the present, in ways both clearly intended and that feel more relevant in light of recent events.

Directed by George C. Wolfe from an adaptation penned by Ruben Santiago-Hudson (and counting Denzel Washington among its producers), the action unfolds almost entirely within a dingy Chicago recording studio. Ma and her band have made the pilgrimage from Georgia to make a record, but tensions within the group, as well as between Ma and her manager (Jeremy Shamos), bubble beneath the surface, and occasionally boil over.

Boseman’s Levee has big dreams, which include bringing his own creative spin to Ma’s songs, which simply won’t fly with her. “You play Ma’s music when you’re here,” he’s told by Cutler (“Fear the Walking Dead’s” Colman Domingo), a band veteran along with characters played by Glynn Turman and Michael Potts.

Levee, moreover, is braving Ma’s wrath in more ways than one, having set his eyes on her girlfriend (“Hit the Floor’s” Taylour Paige). He also yearns to have his own group, forcing him to behave solicitously toward the white manager and producer, despite a painful past that he recounts in searing detail.

As for Ma, she arrives characteristically late, carrying on like a typical showbiz diva, demanding her three Coca-Colas before she’ll sing a note and repeatedly threatening to cancel the whole session and retreat back to the South.

After a time, the underpinnings of that combative posture become plain, reflecting her recognition that those looking to cash in on her talent “don’t care nothing about me. All they want is my voice.”

Wolfe does what he can to open up the presentation, but the long monologues and rat-a-tat banter make the stage roots almost impossible to shed. Fortunately, Davis and Boseman deliver powerful performances, lashing out at those around them — especially, in Levee’s case, because of constraints in terms of where and how he can direct his anger.

While “Black Panther” remains an enormous part of Boseman’s legacy, his flashy, fast-talking role here — using music as a means of seduction — demonstrates his extraordinary range and at least while watching nearly erases considerations beyond what’s on screen, which is no small feat.

Davis, for her part, sinks her teeth into another larger-than-life character as only she can, with the one complicating factor being that her relatively limited screen time makes the meaty role hard to categorize from an awards perspective. The film, incidentally, is a reunion of sorts, since she previously co-starred opposite Washington in the adaptation of Wilson’s “Fences.”

Amid its concerted awards push, Netflix has been particularly aggressive about bringing theatrical works to living rooms, including “The Boys in the Band,” “American Son” and the upcoming “The Prom.” In terms of timing, approximating the intimacy of theater — as difficult as that is via TV — is extremely well timed with stages closed due to the pandemic.

At just over 90 minutes, “Ma Rainey” — like any savvy performer — doesn’t overstay its welcome, or risk stretching the premise beyond its weight. Thanks to its leads, rather, it belts out a few showstopping moments, before taking that last, well-deserved curtain call.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” will receive a limited theatrical release on Nov. 25 and premieres Dec. 18 on Netflix.

Recently Played

Entertainment News

Another familiar face returns to ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

Another familiar face returns to ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

Meredith Grey’s death beach party got a new guest in this week’s episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

In the new episode, the doctor (played by Ellen Pompeo) remained in critical condition as she fought the coronavirus and was visited in her Covid-19 dream by the late George O’Malley (T. R. Knight).

Meredith’s dead husband, Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), kicked off what is turning into a season of surprise returns with an unannounced appearance in the premiere episode.

Though Knight’s appearance was also unannounced, previews for this week’s episode had teased that another face from the past would be seen again.

Knight left the series at the end of the fifth season, with his character meeting a tragic end after being hit by a bus. (He saved a female stranger by pushing her out of a bus’s path.)

George’s untimely and heroic demise came up when the best friends met again on the beach, where they talked about death, grief and the impact George had on Meredith.

“You changed my life, George. I didn’t say it then, but it’s true,” she told him.

At episode’s end, Meredith remained in rough shape but had been given a treatment under trial. Meanwhile, Tom Koracick (Greg Germann), who viewers learned had the coronavirus in the last episode, took a turn for the worse despite showing signs that he was in for a seemingly mild fight.

“Grey’s Anatomy” airs Thursdays on ABC.

A volunteer was attacked by a tiger at Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue

A longtime volunteer at Big Cat Rescue, the Florida animal sanctuary profiled in Netflix’s “Tiger King,” was attacked by a tiger during a morning feeding, the sanctuary confirmed to CNN. The volunteer, who’d worked at the Carole Baskin-founded sanctuary for five years, had gone to feed the tiger Kimba on Thursday when she noticed the…Continue Reading

Blackpink announces their first livestream concert

Blackpink announces their first livestream concert

Blackpink announced they will perform their first-ever livestream concert, called “The Show.” The concert will stream on YouTube on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 12 AM ET via the K-pop group’s YouTube channel. “We wanted to end the year with something very special for our Blinks who have been waiting so patiently for us,” the group…Continue Reading

Juliana Margulies joins ‘The Morning Show’

Juliana Margulies joins ‘The Morning Show’

“The Morning Show” will feature a new but familiar face next season. Apple TV+ announced on the show’s Instagram page on Wednesday that actress Julianna Margulies will be joining Season 2 alongside Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell. Margulies will play an anchor named Laura Peterson. Greta Lee, Hasan Minhaj and Ruairi O’Connor will…Continue Reading

Britney Spears debuts previously unreleased song on her birthday

Britney Spears debuts previously unreleased song on her birthday

Britney Spears celebrated her birthday with a song. The singer, who turned 39 on Wednesday, debuted the previously unreleased song, “Swimming in the Stars.” The tune was originally recorded for her 2016 album, “Glory” but not included. Related: Britney Spears’ early birthday Hawaiian vacay Spears teased the release of the song last month and it’s…Continue Reading

Miley Cyrus only has love for Liam Hemsworth

Miley Cyrus only has love for Liam Hemsworth

Miley Cyrus has no hard feelings for ex-husband Liam Hemsworth. The singer visited Howard Stern’s SiriusXM show on Wednesday, where she discussed her marriage to Hemsworth and why it ended not long after a Malibu fire destroyed the couple’s home in 2018. “Me being an intense person and not wanting to sit with it and…Continue Reading

Harry Styles isn’t ashamed of his One Direction days

Harry Styles isn’t ashamed of his One Direction days

Harry Styles may be gracing covers of magazines solo these days, but the singer has only good things to say about his time in boy band One Direction. “When you look at the history of people coming out of bands and starting solo careers, they feel this need to apologize for being in the band.…Continue Reading

‘The Masked Singer’ renewed for fifth season

‘The Masked Singer’ renewed for fifth season

Fox will unmask a new season of “The Masked Singer” next year. Ahead of Wednesday’s two-hour semifinals, the network announced a fifth season to debut in 2021. “This show brings joy to so many families across the country, especially during these trying times, and we can’t wait to get even more celebrities suited up in…Continue Reading

Wrestling trailblazer Pat Patterson has died at 79

Wrestling trailblazer Pat Patterson has died at 79

Legendary wrestler Pat Patterson has died, World Wrestling Entertainment announced Wednesday. “WWE is saddened to learn that Pat Patterson has passed away at the age of 79,” WWE said in a statement. “WWE extends its condolences to Patterson’s family and friends.” Patterson began his career in 1958 and was a trailblazer in the world of…Continue Reading

There is no custom code to display.