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Broadway Black History Musical

Broadway Black History Musical: Shuffle Along

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In 1921, Shuffle Along, a musical revue, opened on Broadway and ran for nearly 484 performances. With book by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, music by Eubie Blake and lyrics by Noble Sissie, Shuffle Along is about a mayoral race in a small town. Two contenders for mayor promise to appoint the other as sheriff of the town. One of the candidates cheats and wins the office but when it comes out, he and his newly appointed sheriff get into a huge fight in the middle of town. When another citizen hears this, he vows to run for mayor during the next election and oust both men out of office. The new contender wins the race for mayor and wins his love and runs the crooked former mayor and sheriff out of town.

The first run of this show was not only wildly successful but was equally as important in theater history. The show helped to launch the careers of Adelaide Hall, Paul Robeson and Josephine Baker. The song “I’m Just Wild About Harry” became so popular that Harry Truman used it as his theme song for his presidential campaign. Shuffle Along was one of the first shows to break the taboo of showing African American love on the stage. Most importantly, this was one of the first financially successful shows written by African Americans, directed by an African American and starring African Americans. After Shuffle Along, there were nine shows that starred African Americans that opened with in 3 years after it opened. Loften Mitchell, a historian, said that this piece was so important that it could be credited as launching the Harlem Renaissance.

Shuffle Along closed in 1922 but the show toured the country until 1924. In 1933 and 1952, there were 2 more revivals of Shuffle Along on Broadway.

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Broadway Black History Musical

Isaiah Johnson Joins Reading of “Reginald”

Jerrica White

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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.

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A Must See

Smokey Joe’s Cafe Sets Broadway Return

Tavia Riveè

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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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A Must See

NBC Takes Us Behind The Yellow Brick Road With The Making of The Wiz Live!

Jerrica White

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I think it’s safe to say, we’re all sitting on the edge of our seats with popcorn and Sour Patch Kids, waiting for the Dec 3 arrival of NBC’s The Wiz Live!  We may not be able to reach new levels of obsession over Shanice Williams and the rest of the star studded and immensely talented cast, but let me tell you something: there is more good news! Ne-Yo, I mean NBC, is taking us on a backstage, all-access look into the teamwork it takes to ease on down the road through “The Making of The Wiz Live!” on November 25 from 8-9pm EST.

We’ll see Shanice belting her face off, Queen Latifah bringing back “U.N.I.T.Y,” Mary J. Blige teaching us how she fits her infamous bop into her role as “Evilene”, and the original Dorothy, Stephanie Mills, reliving her experiences from the original Broadway production.
Okay, okay, okay! None of that was promised.. but tune in for an hour of insight that covers costumes to casting! And I’m sure candid (or not so candid) shots of Shanice singing! #yassss
UPDATE: Watch the latest promo video for #TheWizLive below!

The Wiz is an adaptation of L. Frank Baulm’s timeless, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,  told through a lens that weaves in African American culture. Many were exposed to The Wiz through the 1978 film which featured Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, and Richard Pryor. However, the show we’ll see in December is based on the 1974 Broadway production of The Wiz that went on to snag seven Tony awards, including Best Musical.
The cast is like the Broadway Black version of The Avengers, bringing together our favorite veterans to give life to the revamped 2015 version of The Wiz. Shanice Williams leads us through the streets of Oz as “Dorothy”, Queen Latifah serves as the powerful, yet powerless legend: “The Wiz”, Mary J. Blige is “Evillene” (The Wicked Witch of the West), David Alan Grier searches for courage as the “Cowardly Lion”, Uzo Aduba is “Glinda”, Amber Riley is “Addaperle”, Stephanie Mills joins the company as “Auntie Em”, Elijah Kelley finally gets his brain as the “Scarecrow”, Common is the “Bouncer”, and Ne-Yo gets loose as the “Tin Man”. In the midst of so many talented stars, it’s no surprise that creativity produced magic. Ne-Yo, Elijah Kelley, music producer Harvey Mason, Jr., and music director Stephen Oremus, cowrote a new song which will be featured in the show.
Maybe we’ll get insight into that new song. Maybe we’ll see David Alan Grier crack jokes on his fellow castmates. Maybe we’ll just see Shanice smiling. All I know is we’re getting a glimpse into this highly anticipated production– the very glimpse my impatience needed.
Take a look at glimpse of the panel discussion we attended with a part of the cast at the Apple Store in Soho. If you follow us on Periscope you know we streamed the entire thing. It was great!

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Broadway Black History Musical

Retrospective: The Color Purple

Tanya Isley

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We’re ready for Jennifer Hudson, Danielle Brooks, and Cynthia Erivo to hit the stage in the upcoming revival of The Color Purple on November 10. But to truly appreciate the latest Broadway run of this endearing musical, we must take a retrospective look at the original Broadway production.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker and the Steven Spielberg-directed motion picture, the musical opened at The Broadway Theatre on December 1, 2005 with a stellar cast that starred LaChanze as “Celie,” Brandon Victor Dixon as “Harpo,” Felicia P. Fields as “Sofia,” Renée Elise Goldsberry as “Nettie,” Kingsley Leggs as “Mister,” Krisha Marcano as “Squeak,” and Elisabeth Withers-Mendes as “Shug Avery.”

It was directed by Gary Griffin, produced by Scott Sanders, Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey, with choreography by Donald Byrd and musical direction by Linda Twine. Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Marsha Norman (‘night, Mother) penned the book for the show, with music and lyrics by celebrated songwriters and artists Stephen Bray, Allee Wills, and Brenda Russell.

Oprah, who was nominated for an Oscar as “Sofia” in the movie version, came on as an investor and producer before the show’s November 1 preview to expand its box office potential. Once she signed on, the show was titled Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Color Purple. At that time, her self-titled television show was a ratings juggernaut, averaging 9 million viewers per year. With Oprah’s name on the marquee, it was almost guaranteed a built-in audience.

Despite Oprah’s star power, the show opened to mixed reviews from the critics. Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote,

Time doesn’t just fly in the exhaustingly eventful world of The Color Purple, it threatens to break the sound barrier. In faithfully adapting Ms. Walker’s incident-crammed 1982 Pulitzer Prizewinner about Southern black women finding their inner warriors, the show’s creators have fashioned a bright, shiny and muscular storytelling machine that is, above all, built for speed. Watching this beat-the-clock production summons the frustrations of riding through a picturesque stretch of country in a supertrain like the TGV. Thanks to the cast’s spirited way with a song, Purple strikes some sparks during its long and winding journey. But it takes a concentration and leisure the show lacks to fan sparks into a steady flame.

From Michael Feingold of The Village Voice, “The feelings that The Color Purple may arouse in you don’t disguise the fact that they’ve been gotten in a comparatively crude and unimaginative manner. The disheartening lack of quality in the material dilutes the quality of feeling with which it’s being put over and makes the meanings behind it look questionable as well.”

On a more complimentary note, Roma Torre of NY1 wrote, “As art, the show is flawed, but it’s also so full of heart, the flaws don’t seem to matter. The Color Purple sings to the soul.”

And Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press added “Fans of Walker’s novel most likely will not be disappointed in this reverent stage retelling and will embrace it heartily as a live souvenir of the original. Others may crave a little more theatrical excitement.”

However, when it came time for the Tony Awards nominations, the production received tremendous love and recognition, receiving 11 nominations, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. LaChanze won the Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.

Elisabeth Withers-Mendes – “Push Da Button” – THE COLOR PURPLE ( Letterman 16-Nov-05)

Elisabeth Withers-Mendes and the Broadway cast of THE COLOR PURPLE perform “Push Da Button” (written by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray) on Late Show with David Letterman. Airdate: November 16, 2005

The Color Purple closed on February 24, 2008, after 30 previews and 910 regular performances. The Broadway production recouped its $11 million investment within its first year on Broadway. After its three-year Broadway run, the show went on to three national tours and several regional productions. In 2013, John Doyle directed the London production at the Meiner Chocolate Factory starring Erivo as “Celie.” It is this production that is inspiring the Broadway revival this fall.

For tickets to this upcoming production, click HERE.

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Broadway Black History Musical

5 Great Musicals You’ve Probably Overlooked

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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You have heard of DreamgirlsWicked 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.

Caroline, or Change

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.

Carmen Jones

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.

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Broadway Black History Fact

Appropriation, Not Appreciation: The History of Blackface

Jordan Ealey

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Theatre is an integral part of society. It is often the mirror that society uses to see its reflection. Oftentimes, that reflection isn’t always pretty. Though this art form has allowed many Black theatre artists to express the cultural ills of society, there is at least one blemish on the face of theatre: blackface.

Blackface is when actors, often not of color, paint their faces darker in order to portray a Black person. This form of makeup was used in “minstrelsy,” in which white actors and actresses would pretend to be Black people or, more accurately, how they believed Black people to be. Blackface and minstrelsy gained popularity in the nineteenth century by way of actor Thomas D. Rice, who toured the U.S. with the stage name, “Daddy Jim Crow.” His name later became associated with the racism and segregation that was affecting individuals in the South. A video of one of his performances can be seen here.

Today, if blackface is used, it is the subject of controversy; however, that doesn’t mean that it is completely eradicated. In the 2008 movie, “Tropic Thunder,” white actor Robert Downey, Jr. portrays a Black man. The comedy was lauded for its hilarity and Downey was even nominated for an Academy Award. That leads one to wonder if a Black man playing the same role would have received the same critical acclaim. Additionally, actress and dancer, Julianne Hough, dressed as “Orange Is The New Black’s” Crazy Eyes (portrayed by the fabulous Uzo Aduba) as a Halloween costume. The actress later apologized on Twitter for her blunder, but the damage was already done.

Eric Lott at PBS writes that the legacy of blackface is the stereotypes set in the past are still affecting the mindset of white people’s perception of Black people today. This phenomenon affects Black people because the tropes associated with blackface are harmful. Appropriation of someone’s color or culture is not a form of appreciation. Appreciation is not embodying someone and taking over; it is respecting them for who they are.

Jump Jim Crow – Blackface Song and Dance

A recreation of the Jump Jim Crow refrain the way it was performed by Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice (1808-60). This clip is so short I repeated it three times so you can get a good look. This is the only clip I’ve ever found that shows a performer singing and dancing the actual tune.

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