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5 Theatre Dream Teams We’d Love To Pen a Harlem Renaissance Musical

Broadway Black

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Novelists seem infatuated by the Jazz Age. Whether it’s “Lost Generation” authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald (This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) Ernest Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises) and Virginia Woolf (Mrs Dalloway), or contemporary writers like Anna Godbersen (Bright Young Things) & Libba Bray (The Diviners). Broadway historians, theatre makers and writers also seem to be obsessed. However it seems when it comes to the art of storytelling on the proscenium stage, very few are fascinated by or specialize in the Harlem Renaissance, the New Negro Movement and “Negro Vogue” period of the 1920s. This is noticeable especially in the world of American musical theatre.

Thank God for Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe, who has been a staunch advocate of showcasing black talent in the Jazz Age. Since his NYC directorial debut, Wolfe has enthusiastically raised awareness of African American culture in the post-war period of the United States on the proscenium stage. With the 1986 off-Broadway harlemproduction of The Colored Museum—a satirical variety show that subverts and cross-examines prominent themes and identities of black urbanity, Western civilization and popular culture—, Wolfe explored the complexities of that time. In his Obie winning 1989 follow-up, Spunk, Wolfe showed instances of Zora Neale Hurston, one of the major forces operating in that generation of 1920s black intelligentsia and how they were debased by white America, their peers and ultimately history. Via tap dance, with his 1996 musical revue spectacular Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, Wolfe showed how that time period (and prior African American history) influenced the present. He has done so consistently, whether it was co-writing and directing The Wild Party with ecoteric musical theatre composer Michael John LaChiusa in 2000 or his visionary 2016 reboot, Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. But zero theatremakers have actually taken it upon themselves to recreate the Harlem Renaissance on the Broadway stage with some of its more illustrious and notorious luminaries.

Sure, there’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Bubbling Brown Sugar, but outside these topsy-turvy Jazz Age revues about the time period, there hasn’t been original musical about the New Negro Movement of the 1920s. We say, it’s high time theatre artists create an authentic (and star-studded) Harlem Renaissance musical for the Great White Way. Here are 5 dream teams we’d like to see attempt an original musical on the subject:

Robert & Kirsten

Director: Robert O’Hara, Book: Robert O’Hara & Kirsten Childs, Music/Lyrics: Kirsten Childs

When it comes to wickedly witty hilarity, eye-popping visual razzle-dazzle and a narrative that veers on the darker side, look no further. In addition to being black intelligentsia, figures like Wallace Thurman, Langston Hughes, Bruce Nugent and Alain Locke were huge party animals. Wouldn’t it be cool to see that on the big stage?!

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Director: George C. Wolfe, Book: Branden Jacob-Jenkins, Music/Lyrics: Jeanine Tesori

In 2003, Tony Kushner (Angels In America) partnered with Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Violet) and created the acclaimed Civil Rights-era musical Caroline, or Change under the direction of none other than George C. Wolfe. We say, let Wolfe and Tesori partner up with Pultizer Prize nominated playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins (Gloria, An Octoroon, Appropriate). Admit it, very few playwrigths deliver dialogue with such gusto.

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Director: Diane Paulus Book: Suzan Lori-Parks Music/Lyrics: Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman

We admit it, it’s a weird combo. But oddly enough, it works. Tony winning director Diane Paulus (Pippin, Hair) previously collaborated with Pultizer Prize winning playwright Suzan Lori-Parks (Topdog/Underdog) on The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess when it premiered on Broadway in 2012. Unafraid of spectacle and glamour, with the addition of Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman ( NBC’s “Smash,” Hairspray; South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut), this could be the biggest sure-fire Broadway hit since… Hamilton. (Yeah, we said it).

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Director: Liesl Tommy, Book: Lynn Nottage, Music/Lyrics: Henry Krieger & Tim Rice

Pairing one of the biggest rising talents, director Liesel Tommy (Eclipsed), with one of Pultizer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage (Ruined) seems to be like a match made in theatre heaven. But two dramatic theatremakers need a dramatic songwriting team who can deliver showstoppers. So, why not pair them with Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls, Side Show) and Tim Rice (Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Aladdin, The Lion King, Aida)? Imagine the ticket price!

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Director: Kenny Leon/Bill T. Jones, Book: Katori Hall, Music/Lyrics: Stew and Heidi Rodewald

While the current American musical theatre panorama is transmogrifying into a more youth-driven and socially conscious arena, it is unclear of who will be the next major voices in theatre. That said, veteran director Kenny Leon’s work on “The Wiz Live!” made it clear that he’s one of the most underrated and effervescent directors working in theatre. Bill T. Jones (Fela!) proved he knows how to bring energy and aplomb to the stage. Katori Hall (The Mountaintop, The Hurt Village) writes with a dark magic that is perfect for this kind of theatrical exhibition. With music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald (Passing Strange, The Total Bent) this could be an icon off-Broadway show and a Broadway hit.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mr. Gumsandals, sir!

    January 11, 2017 at 3:10 PM

    And let’s not forget “Jitterbug!” http://www.jittrbug.net/

  2. Avatar

    IeeshaTheGreat

    January 13, 2017 at 10:26 AM

    I like this article for a few reasons. One, it has introduced me to some names I did not previously know. And two, I like when you suggest projects that should be coming to the stage. I look forward to seeing a show or two like this in the coming years.

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Events and Happenings

Iconic Entertainer Gregory Hines Honored With a Black Heritage Series Stamp

Drew Shade

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Savion Glover; Maurice Hines, Gregory’s brother; and Daria Hines, Gregory’s daughter Photo courtesy of USPS

The U.S. Postal Service honored iconic entertainer Gregory Hines with a Black Heritage Series stamp in a ceremony on January 28th. As the 42nd entry in the series, the stamp featuring a 1988 photo of a smiling Hines is now available at Post Offices and usps.com. 

At the ceremony Tony Award winner Savion Glover talked about the role Hines played in elevating tap into an art form and the value of his work. Joining him in the celebration were Maurice Hines, actor, dancer, choreographer, and Hines’ brother; Daria Hines, actress, costume designer, and Hines’ daughter; dancers Chloe and Maud Arnold; Tony Waag, the American Tap Dance Foundation’s artistic director, and tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith.

“I don’t exist without this man,” said Glover, “These young people that you see, they aren’t born without this. We are not here today without this.”

The Chief Postal Inspector, Gary Barksdale, who led the ceremony, said “Gregory Hines was an extraordinary artist in every sense of the word. This Forever stamp pays tribute to his life and career as an actor, singer and most importantly, as a performer whose unique style of tap dancing injected new artistry and excitement into a traditional American form.”

Gregory Hines’ Broadway credits include Eubie!, Sophisticated Ladies, & Comin’ Uptown,  all of which garnered him Tony Award nominations. He became a Tony Award winner for his starring role in “Jelly’s Last Jam” in 1992. In 2003 he passed away at 57 years old from cancer.

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Events and Happenings

Casts of Disney’s The Lion King, Frozen, & Aladdin Broadway Celebrate Black History Month

Drew Shade

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Noah Ricketts, Aisha Jackson, Donald Jones Jr. Photo by Darnell Bennett

It’s a beautiful time to be Black on Broadway. For Black History Month, the casts of The Lion King, Aladdin, and Frozen on Broadway came together in a celebratory photo shoot with photographer Darnell Bennett involving 35+ company cast members.

Take a look at the behind-the-scenes video above and the accompanying photos below.

Cast members included The Lion King‘s Tryphena WadeLawrence Keith Alexander, Brian C. Binion, Lidiwe DlaminiDonna Michelle VaughnLaMar Baylor, Kyle Lamar MitchellBradley GibsonJamal Lee Harris, Elisha BowmansRay MercerL. Steven TaylorBongi DumaKimberly MarableSyndee WintersCameron AmandusPearl KhweziJaysin McCollumAngelica EdwardsIndia Bolds, Bonita HamiltonTshidi Manye, & Bravita Threatt.

Also, Noah RickettsAisha JacksonDonald Jones Jr. of Frozen, and Aladdin‘s Tyler RobertsPaige Williams, Deonte L WarrenTiffany EvaristeMajor AttawayAmber OwensJamie Kasey PattersonApril HollowayKathryn AllisonAriel ReidJuwan CrawleyTrent SaundersDennis Stowe, and Stanley Martin.

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