Last month, the Radio City Rockettes kicked up their precision heels at the 71st Annual Tony Awards for the first time since 2005. They marched on stage with the cast from Come From Away in the opening number with host Kevin Spacey, then later performed a full routine to “New York, New York” sung by the incomparable duo Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr.
The 36 dancers took the stage at Radio City Music Hall, which has been their home since 1932, to welcome their guests with dazzling routines, costumes and award-winning smiles. Comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney of Oh, Hello! fame introduced them by shouting, “A baby boy born during their last performance would be bar mitzvahed today!” While 13 years seems like a long time to that young boy (and congrats, whoever you are!), it has been a scant 30 years since another Rockettes milestone; the addition of dancers of color.
The Rockettes have been high-kicking in unison since they were founded by Russell Markert in St. Louis, Mo in 1925. Markert wanted to create the world’s most precise dancing troupe and as of today, his vision was a success. However, like most things during that time, that vision did not include people of color. Markert’s dancers, who were all white, were not allowed to sun tan lest they look “like a colored girl.”, ironically representing one of the most diverse places on the planet.
The Civil rights movement decades later did little to change the minds of the people in charge. In 1982, the director at the time, Violet Holmes stated, “One or two black girls in the line would definitely distract. You would lose the whole look of precision, which is the hallmark of the Rockettes.” This ridiculous notion was removed from the standard Radio City practice only five years later when Jennifer Jones became the first black woman to kick alongside her 35 Rockette sisters. (video of her debut performance)
One might expect Corny Collins from Hairspray to slide in and declare at that moment the Rockettes were “officially integrated!” Thankfully, he did not, as one can only take so much of a man named Corny sliding anywhere announcing anything. Nevertheless, the West Coast cast of the Rockettes already cast a Black dancer earlier that year and the NYC cast hired Japan-born Setsuko Maruhashi to dance with the troupe a year earlier.
Things continue to look up for the Rockettes since they have embraced equal-opportunity casting. Aside from the January 2017 kerfuffle where only half of the kickline performed at President Trump’s Inaugural Ball, (a gig that Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday declined) the talented women continue their rigorous winter and spring schedules without incident. Now young Black dancers can see themselves represented on stage and as one blogger said ecstatically, “Someone with hair like mine is in the Rockettes!” That #BlackJoy is something we can all celebrate.
Broadway said “What Blackout?!” and Took Their Talents Outside
The power went clean out in most of Manhattan on Saturday night. The Broadway League released a statement saying most of the shows were canceled and that the power should be restored before the following Sunday matinee. That did end up happening but right after the blackout happened casts of Broadway shows took to the streets to offer up their voices in song to the delight of the many people in the streets who were evacuated from the Broadway houses and neighboring establishments.
Take a look at what shows popped off in the streets of midtown Manhattan!
- Of course, Tony Award Winner André De Shields snaps off with the cast of Hadestown at the Walter Kerr Theatre
— Kimberly Marable (@misskimizzo) July 14, 2019
— Joe Harrell (@JoeHarrellNYC) July 14, 2019
2. The cast of Aint Too Proud singing Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” to someone in the crowd from their dressing room windows at the Imperial Theatre. The tweet with the video it’s the cast of Hamilton but twitter did its thing and they quickly corrected them. It was an honest mistake, Hamilton is right next door.)
— Antony (@lemonfuzz) July 14, 2019
3. The cast of Come From Away:
— Chad Kimball (@chadkimball1) July 14, 2019
— Billy Recce (@BillyRecce) July 13, 2019
4. The cast of Waitress:
— Dave Quinn (@NineDaves) July 14, 2019
5. The cast of Frozen:
— Robert Creighton (@RCreightonNYC) July 14, 2019
— Patti Murin (@PattiMurin) July 14, 2019
West Side Story’s Cool Reimagined by Los York Studios And It’s Pretty… Cool!
As described in their mission statement, Los York is “an integrated production company that executes live action, design, and experimental projects.” An older project of the company resurfaced recently, a reimagined rendition of West Side Story‘s “Cool” scene, is now circulating throughout the internet. The Emmy Award winner and director of the video, Seth Epstein has brilliantly captured the story of rivalry within two different ethnic groups, but this time with more melanin!
The electrifying footwork, where pirouettes are replaced with pop locking and break dancing in the place of battements, provides hope for bridging racial gaps and relieving tensions. This style is more interpretive, with urban based movements that add an extra layer to some of the barriers printed in the original 1957 production.One thing that I appreciate about the classic musical West Side Story is its transcendent nature and ability to comfortably conform to whatever generation of interest.
Above all else, West Side Story is a love story, a modernized interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The timelessness in the modernized story–tension between two lovers of opposite gangs–reveals past and present issues found in American society however old and reoccurring they may be. The Los York video demonstrates that flexibility and once again creates an even bigger space for a fabulous classic.
Watch for yourself!
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