You have heard of Dreamgirls, Wicked and In The Heights, but there are always a few musicals you leave off of your “My Top Ten Musicals of All Time” list. But fret no more, Broadway Black is here to give you five great musicals you, and probably the rest of the world, have overlooked.
SHOULD. HAVE. WON. EVERY. SINGLE. TONY. FOR. WHICH. THEY. WERE. NOMINATED. Okay, I’m good now. This show opened on Broadway in 2004. It’s 2015, why hasn’t there been a revival in the works for the Great White Way? Its score combines spirituals, blues, Motown, classical music, Jewish klezmer, and folk music all in one. What other musical does that, and does so effortlessly? If only in 2004 I had been smart enough to become the theatre nerd I am today, I would have begged my mom to take me to New York City to see Tonya Pinkins, Chuck Cooper and Anika Noni Rose in this show. The musical is set in 1963 New Orleans during the American civil rights movement. Caroline works as a maid for a Jewish family, where she is allowed to keep the pocket change she finds while doing laundry. This becomes a point of pride and even crisis for the maid, who cannot cope with greater changes in her life and the growing civil rights movement.
If I had been around in the 1940s I would have been all up in the theatre to see Carmen Jones. Oscar Hammerstein’s take on Bizet’s Opera Carmen featured an all-Black cast set in the South during the World War II era. This time, Carmen is a worker in a parachute factory; Don Jose is now Don, an army corporal; Micaela is now Cindy Lou, Joe’s lover; and Escamillo is Husky Miller, a boxer. When the show was first conceived, they had trouble finding suitable actors for it because back then, Black singers were discouraged (or practically barred) from becoming opera singers. To make up for this they plucked people from all kinds of non-acting positions–film scraper, cop, etc.
She Loves Me
Nearly every character in this show is white, and it takes place in Europe. However, WHO CARES? This show has some amazing music. Its tender, hilarious, and entrancing “A Romantic Atmosphere” is one of the most exciting, funny production numbers to ever exist. Also I can see Audra McDonald absolutely KILLING it singing Vanilla Ice Cream. Look up the song if you don’t know. Seriously, Audra would slay that role as Amalia. The plot has been seen before: it revolves around shop employees Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash who, despite being consistently at odds with each other at work, are unaware that each is the other’s secret pen pal met through a lonely-hearts ad.
St. Louis Woman
If you loved Porgy and Bess, you’ll love St. Louis Woman too. It has an Encores cast recording from 1998, but if you search high and low you’ll find the OBC as well. Starring the Nicholas Brothers, Pearl Bailey, and Ruby Hill, St. Louis Woman tells the story of Della Green who falls for Li’l Augie, a jockey with a winning streak, though she’s already the woman of Biglow Brown, a saloon owner. Brown is eventually killed, but he puts a curse on Li’l Augie that ends the streak and Della’s affection for the jockey.
Once on This Island
It’s a French fairy tale about a young island girl from Haiti, Ti Moune, who falls in love with the mulatto son (Daniel) of a wealthy landowner. When he’s injured, she makes a pact with the gods that it’s going to be her life for his. He survives and is grateful, but rejects her love (RUDE!). The gods, as a reward for her sacrifice and disappointment, grant her eternal life by turning her into a tree. It reminds me a lot of The Tempest, a little Romeo and Juliet, and even some Little Mermaid just shaken up a bit and a lot more music.
We could probably list more overlooked shows, but I’m curious to know about some shows YOU think are overlooked! Sound off below.
Isaiah Johnson Joins Reading of “Reginald”
Isaiah Johnson is set to lead a reading of Reginald: From Baltimore to Billionaire, which is based on the life of Reginald F. Lewis.
In case you missed this day in history class, Reginald F. Lewis is the first Black billionaire. He rose to affluence in the ’80s and died at the age of 50. Over his 5 decades of life, Reginald attended Harvard Law and achieved his status through his corporate acquisitions. He left his legacy through philanthropic efforts, donating millions of dollars each year to a number of institutions, from homeless shelters to neighborhood churches.
Written by Kevin Ray Johnson, Reginald takes us on a journey from childhood to billionaire status, and the struggles of life he faced in between. Isaiah joins the cast as Reginald F. Lewis. Lora Nicolas will play Loida Nicolas-Lewis, the wife of Reginald F. Lewis. The rest of the cast includes: Jessica Frances Dukes (Booty Candy at Playwrights Horizons), Savannah Frazier (Amazing Grace), Troy Hopper, Matt Welsh, Joe Sergio, Emily Bailey and Timothy-Michael Chastain.
The reading will be held Monday August 15th, 7:00 pm at Shetler Studios Penthouse 2.
Johnson is currently wondering how a man can do good, when all he knows is bad, under “Celie’s Curse” as Mister in the Tony-winning best revival of The Color Purple. Before The Color Purple, Johnson was seen in The Winter’s Tale, Peter and The Starcatcher, and The Merchant of Venice as Prince of Morocco.
Smokey Joe’s Cafe Sets Broadway Return
The longest-running musical revue to play Broadway is making a triumphant return this summer as producers announced the comeback of hit revue Smokey Joe’s Cafe.
The Jukebox musical that garnered Tony award nominations for Broadway Black stars Victor Trent Cook, B.J. Crosby and the illustrious Brenda Braxton, is set for a revival, with rehearsals starting around the end of May, according to an Actors Equity audition posting. Previews are scheduled for July 19
Original producers Richard Frankel, Steve Baruch, Tom Viertel and Marc Routh are joining original cast Tony-nominated director Jerry Zaks to revive the hit revue. The show features songs by writers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, including fan favorites “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “I’m a Woman,” and “On Broadway.” After Midnight Choreographer,Warren Carlyle, has also signed on, along with musical direction by Sonny Paladino.
Smokey Joe’s opened on Broadway March 2, 1995 and despite harsh critical reviews, had substantial commercial success. The revue earned five Tony award nominations in 1995 including Best Featured Actress, Best Featured Actor, Best Choreography, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Musical. It also won the Grammy for Best Musical Show Album in 1996. After a nearly five year run and a bevy of special appearances, including Gloria Gaynor, Lou Rawls and Gladys Knight, the show closed Jan of 2000 after 2,036 performances.
In 2014, nearly 20 years after the first performance, Braxton directed original cast members for reunion concert performance of Smokey Joe’s at the famed Feinstein’s/ 54 Below.
“There’s so much history with us,” Braxton shared with the second of two sold-out crowds. “We weren’t just [together] on Broadway, we were a family.”
Production has yet to announce a venue.
Be sure to check in with Broadway Black for all the latest information!
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