As we enter a new year, it’s only right to reflect on the greatness that happened in 2015. From Broadway to Off-Broadway to live musical events, one-night-only events, and staged readings, 2015 was kind to Broadway Black stars and theatergoers like me. Here at Broadway Black, we can’t just let 2015 end without sharing what we’d consider the Top 10 of 2015.
What is a best of 2015 list without Hamilton? Not a list at all. The hip-hop musical about America’s most controversial founding father with its diverse cast and #hamiltunes that will be stuck in your head forever earns its prized spot on the list. Any show capable of selling out for over a year is a winner in my book. #HamilTonys
Did I mention I saw this show four times? I’m not kidding. The only reason it wasn’t more is because I’m not rich and I went home for Christmas break. The show that tells the story of one man’s incredible journey of self and the people’s lives he impacts was a no-brainer on my list. The dancing, the acting, and the singing is enough to bring you in and take you to new places. #Belamusana
Of course, The Color Purple was going to make this list. Cynthia Erivo, Danielle Brooks and Jennifer Hudson make their Broadway debuts and they enter with a big ol’ splash. The simplistic styling of this musical requires the actors to give their all and bare it on the stage, which they do every night. I see Tonys in their future.
No wonder it’s going to Broadway! It’s that darn good. Second Stage is doing some pretty awesome things over there on 43rd Street, if this show is any indication. It tells the story of an actress teaching prisoners how to tell and act out their personal stories. This show definitely tugged at my heartstrings and now, hopefully, many more will be able to witness its brilliance.
Legendary. James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson sharing the stage again was one of the most amazing moments of 2015. Being able to just be in that room and watch these masters grace the stage effortlessly was a big deal. Black don’t crack, and neither does our ability to memorize scripts and get out there and be amazing eight nights a week.
The Public Theater also has some hits on their hands. Barbecue centered around family, addiction, and making difficult choices. Written by Obie Award Winning Playwright Robert O’Hara, the play was full of twists and turns that left audiences gasping and guessing about what was going to happen next.
Our girl Dominique Morisseau came through. The production is directed by the always amazing Ruben Santiago-Hudson and stars Tony Award-nominee De’Adre Aziza (Passing Strange), Golden Globe-nominee Blair Underwood (A Street Car Named Desire), and Andre Holland. This show, which is the first in a trilogy, made waves at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Like Morisseau herself, I doubt it’s the last you’ll hear about it.
An Octoroon (the term “Octoroon” is a person who is one-eighth Black) is all about race in the United States. The brilliant show written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins got its start at Soho Rep and uses satire to get at the United States’ horrible legacy of slavery. Incorporating Black face, red face and everything in between, this show took it there unapologetically. An Octoroon can make an entire audience uncomfortable and force them to face the harsh realities of this “great” nation all in one. After all, art is an imitation of life, right?
Gone too soon. The song I sang as a child suddenly held more weight when I finally was able to see this show in the summer. Beautifully and thoroughly executed, Amazing Grace was a gracious piece of theatre that wasn’t afraid to go there. While it may have left Broadway, the cast recording will be enough to keep me going.
This is another one that moved from Off-Broadway because of its stellar cast and amazing story. Danai Gurira is genius. Set during the Liberian Civil War, Eclipsed tells the stories of the captive wives of a rebel officer who band together to form a fragile community—until the balance of their lives is upset by the arrival of a new girl. Heartfelt, funny, and mesmerizing are just a few adjectives to describe how great of a show this is.
Special Mention: The Wiz Live!
How could I make a list without The Wiz Live! on it? This show and all of its #melaninmagic captivated audiences everywhere. The old classic story of The Wiz with a modern twist appealed to audiences young and old, and brought together an entire community on Dec. 3rd. That night also made us realize Shanice Williams was going places, Stephanie Mills has still got it, David Alan Grier has some serious pipes, Uzo Aduba and Queen Latifah can do no wrong, Amber Riley was underappreciated on Glee, and “conversate” is an actual word.
Thats our list, what did you see that you put on your list? Sound off in the comments below and check out in-depth information on all of these shows on our site!
Top 5 Works To See at Under The Radar Festival!
Over the last 15 years, The Public Theater’s UNDER THE RADAR FESTIVAL has presented over 229 companies from 42 countries. This festival is an outlet that allows new works the opportunity to catch their breath and breathe. The Public’s mission for providing a high-visibility platform to support artists from diverse backgrounds who are redefining the act of making theater is what this festival is all about.
There is a lot to see but listed here are the top 5 to get you started. Be sure to click on the dates and times above each trailer for all of the details including location, ticket prices, detailed show dates and starting times.
The Illustrious Blacks have arrived to save the world one beat at a time! Once upon a time in a galaxy not far away, there lived two kings. Each was the ruler of his own deliciously glorious planet. The first king, Manchildblack, was well known throughout the cosmos for his ethereal vocals, celestial sonics, and earthy musical messages. The other king, Monstah Black, was a star in the solar system for his gravity-defying performances, gender-bending fashions, and spacey disposition. One magical night, an inexplicable ultra-magnetic pull forced the two planets to collide. A technicolored explosion occurred, turning night into day, with a feast of aural and visual delights. It was then that the universe was changed forever. Manchildblack and Monstah Black united and became The Illustrious Blacks!
2. HEAR WORD! NAIJA WOMAN TALK TRUE
Inspired by multi-generational stories of inequality and transformation. Staged by director and writer Ifeoma Fafunwa, the show grapples with the issues affecting the lives of women across Nigeria, and the factors that limit their potential for independence, leadership, and meaningful contribution in society. Combining song and dance with intimate portraits of resilience and resistance, the show celebrates women who have broken the culture of silence, challenged the status quo, and moved beyond barriers to achieving solutions.
Featuring a cast of leading Nigerian actresses (Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Joke Silva, Elvina Ibru, Omonor, Ufuoma McDermott, Zara Udofia-Ejoh, Rita Edward, Debbie Ohiri, Odenike, and Oluchi Odii) as well as percussionists Emeka Anokwuru and Blessing Idireri.
3. INK: A Piece For Museums
INK is an art lecture, live personal essay, and electronic music concert all in one. With stunning visuals by media designer Shawn Duan, musician-storyteller duo James Harrison Monaco and Jerome Ellis perform a lush live score as they lovingly analyze works from around the world, exploring the traditional art lecture into a unique theatrical experience—one that’s at once playful, intellectual, and spiritual. Together, they guide us through a meditation on calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts, on music and silence, and on Jerome’s intimate relationship to the spoken and written word, in this first-ever collaboration between Under the Radar and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Now, the last two works are part of INCOMING! A festival within a festival. Rapid Response. Controlled Chaos. New Work.
Incoming! features works-in-process from The Public Theater’s Devised Theater Working Group. The DTWG is an artist resource program, offering workshops in critical and professional skills-building, as well as opportunities for creative collaboration. Reciprocally, this Working Group also advises for the Devised Theater Initiative, helping to shape a more inclusive and equitable field.
4. MACBETH IN STRIDE
Whitney White‘s live concert and theatrical event excavate the underbelly of female ambition. With throbbing orchestrations of vintage rock, White traces the fatalistic arc of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth while exorcizing demons of her own. One in a five-part series on Shakespeare’s women, this concert play is a battle cry for black female power and desire.
Sean Dononvan‘s new work is the reconstruction of a memory—the story of a queer couple who move from Brooklyn to a cabin in upstate New York, and of the violence that befalls them. Through monologue, film, dance, and music by Heather Christian, CABIN surveys the lines between myth and memoir, the complexity of intimacy, and the magnitude of loss.
We Were There: Experience Deja Vu With Groundhog Day
What if you had to relive the same day over and over and over AND over again? Would you try something new every time to get a different outcome? Would you drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how to stop it? Now a two-time Olivier Award-winning new musical, Groundhog Day takes us on a whirlwind of adventure and misery through the eyes of a jaded weatherman forced to relive the same day, every day.
Funny enough, Groundhog Day is actually based on a film with the same title, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, and co-written by the show’s book writer Danny Rubin, about a weatherman caught in time and forced to relive the same day over and over and over again.
The concept seemingly feels like dangerous ground for a musical or a play, for that matter, as it forces the audience to watch the same moments over and over AND over again. Yet, somehow Groundhog Day manages to make what could be dangerous territory and turn it into a brilliant masterpiece of a musical. Largely in part to the catchy, fun music of the brilliant Tim Minchin, Groundhog Day makes deja vu seem kinda… cool.
Like the 1993 film, we meet our snarky protagonist Phil Connors (Andy Karl), a weatherman sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the annual prediction of spring, as predicted by “Phil the Groundhog.” Naturally, Phil feels nothing but disdain for the ritual, Punxsutawney, and everyone who celebrates it, including his producer Rita Hanson (Barrett Doss), who he tries to woo while acting like a complete prick to her.
As the Groundhog Day version of Ebenezer Scrooge, Connors needs to deal with the consequences of his terrible, often hilarious, actions. Cue the deja vu, where he must relive the same day over and over.
While he initially spends his days in self-loathing, also encountering a massive groundhog mascot that hilariously hits him on the head as he passes by every day (and he totally deserves it too), he eventually comes to his senses and looks to turning over a new leaf as he tries to win Rita over.
But not before indulging in his share of booze, women, and crime. Repeatedly, of course.
Karl’s charm really comes to play here, as we can easily grow to hate Phil Connors. After all, he’s literally the worst. Yet somehow, watching him suffer this forever purgatory, you can’t help but both root for his liberation and also hope he’s stuck there for all eternity. Karl’s performance in the West End run of the show earned him an Olivier for Best Actor in a Musical last week.
It helps that Broadway newcomer Barrett Doss is an excellent match for Karl, their chemistry undeniable, like her talent. The role (and some of the songs) hint that she’s more than the boring, hard-working producer that we’re led to believe (largely in part to her interactions with Connors), but, underneath the surface, a quirkier soul searching for love. Doss plays that side of Rita with enormous heart and playful charm and wit.
The show also offers a few solos of other Punxsutawney citizens, who express their own joys, worries, and troubles of life in the small town.
Minchin, director Matthew Warchus, Rob Howell (set design), Hugh Vanstone (light design), Paul Kieve (illusions), and Peter Darling (choreography) prove that when the creative team shares the same vision, magic can happen, as evident in the first act’s amazing car-chase number with Phil, two idiot bar patrons, and the Punxsutawney police — one of the most fun sequences I’ve seen on Broadway since … everything in Matilda, which featured the same creative team behind this musical.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed Groundhog Day, and, honestly, wouldn’t mind being stuck in a suburban purgatory with Phil and company again… and again.
Groundhog Day plays at the August Wilson Theatre.