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Theater Forecast 2003

Advance word on the most promising new shows of the year

'Bottom' Up

GOLDBERG AND DUTTON REVIVE ''MA RAINEY''

''I haven't exactly been using acting muscles sitting in that center square,'' admits Whoopi Goldberg, whose last high-profile gig was a certain game show. Said muscles will get a workout in a revival of ''Ma Rainey's Black Bottom,'' the 1984 August Wilson play about a Chicago blues band confronting racism. As Ma, Goldberg fulfills a fantasy -- working with Charles S. Dutton as trumpeter Levee, the role that launched his career: ''The challenge this time is coming back 18 years older. I've got to let my insecurity go.'' So does Goldberg, who's banking on daily vocal lessons. ''Once you hear people like Patti LaBelle and Patti LuPone -- you don't want to be on stage pretending you know how to do that s---.'' (Feb. 6)

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