Home Theater Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett Return to Broadway After 20 Years...

What a night on Broadway: “The Mountaintop” opened, with incendiary performances from Samuel L. Jackson respectively as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Angela Bassett as a maid (or it seems) in Memphis’s Lorraine Motel on the eve of Dr. King’s assassination. It’s been 20 years since Jackson was on Broadway (“The Piano Lesson”), 23 for Bassett (“Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”).

The audience was filled with big names, more than I’ve seen turn out at once for a Broadway play opening.

Everyone from Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz (and Alicia’s great mom, Terria Joseph) to sports giants like Magic Johnson and Julius Erving to Harry Belafonte to Cicely Tyson, Ruby Dee (who gets a shout out in the play), Anthony Mackie, Liz Smith, Iris Love, sisters Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen, Ahmad Rashad (ex of Phylicia), Mary Alice, Sam Rockwell, Star Jones, Gayle King, Dick Cavett, producer Marty Bregman and bw Cornelia, Jimmy and Margo Nederlander, the Shuberts’ Phil Smith, producer Judy Gordon, writer Joan Juliet Buck, actor Billy Magnussen, and the stars’ spouses–LaTanya Richardson and Courtney B. Vance.

Lead producer Jean Doumanian should be proud bringing “The Mountaintop” to Broadway–it’s a terrific new play by a young black playwright named Katori Hall. Broadway is desperate for new blood; this is it. And Hall’s play, while not perfect, is certainly strong with a great plot twist and a knock out ending directed by Kenny Leon.

Bassett’s character is totally invented from fiction, and so she has greater latitude something original and wild. She is amazing, and must be seen. Jackson has the harder task–he’s playing one of the great icons of history, politics, and culture. Long a film favorite, Jackson pulls off his first stage work in years aplomb. He also has MLK’s hairline. “Look,” he showed me at the after party, “It’s a wig. I am bald under here.” He lifted his signature Kangol cap. Might he have played MLK with a Kangol? “I thought about it,” he said with a laugh.

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Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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