BROADWAY MELODY OF 1921
Just when it looked like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton was an early shoe-in for the 2016 Tonys, a new sensation comes down the pike. Shuffle Along or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, with previews which began in March and set for an April 28th opening at the Music Box Theatre, would be a revival but for the brand new book by George C. Wolfe. Wolfe frames the ground-breaking 1921 show within the back story of how it came to be.
Of course, despite it’s pedigree and interesting premise, chances are that nothing will unseat Hamilton, which just also won a Pulitzer, from the top of the Tony list. However, Shuffle Along… did get the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for BEST MUSICAL; Hamilton received the 2015 prize.
In May 1921, Shuffle Along…, a new musical conceived by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles with music and lyrics by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, became the unlikeliest of hits, unlikely because this was an African-American musical revue.
Miller and Lyles’s story for Shuffle Along was about a mayoral race fixed by one of the candidate’s campaign managers, and the ultimate overthrow of the elected official by Harry (“I’m just wild about Harry!”) Walton. Even though much of the comedy depended on minstrel stereotypes, Shuffle Along legitimized African-American talent for the Broadway stage, proving to producers and managers that audiences would pay to see black actors, singers and dancers.
Our 2016 version of the show stars Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Joshua Henry and Brandon Victor Dixon, with choreography by Savion Glover. Everyone associated with the production is a household name in theater circles.
In the three years following its opening at Daly’s 63rd Street Theatre on May 23, 1921, 9 musicals created and performed by African-Americans opened on Broadway.
Shuffle Along came to be treated as a template, which had the disadvantage of limiting black-themed shows from straying from the pattern it set. Nevertheless, it gave black performers and writers as well as other artists a wider acceptance on the main stem. Some scholars have credited “Shuffle Along” with starting and inspiring the Harlem Renaissance.
To learn more about Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, please visit http://shufflealongbroadway.com/
WAITING FOR GOOD PIE
Waiting for that perfect fresh-made pie to come out of the oven offers a kind of thrill. Anticipating Waitress-The Musical had a similar exhilirating effect. The latter is now at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre, having had a widely successful opening on April 24th.
To add to the sweetness, Jessie Mueller is the lead, the pie inventing Jenna in Waitress. Nick Cordero (a treat in “Bullets over Broadway”) plays her husband, Earl.
Mueller originated the role of Carole King in “Beautiful,” for which she won the Tony. We like to think we “discovered” her opposite Harry Connick, Jr. in “On A Clear Day, You Can See Forever,” one of the strangest musicals ever (but that is grist for another discussion.)
Sara Bareilles’ music and lyrics have lovingly turned Adrienne Shelley’s sad and sweet indie film into a bright pop-inflected musical. The libretto is by Jessie Nelson with choreography by Loren Lotarro. The project, which is a fine tribute to the talented Adrienne Shelley, who was murdered before her movie was released, is under Diane Paulus’ direction.
To learn more about Waitress-The Musical, please visit http://waitressthemusical.com/
Most theaters have given up on the pre-curtain warnings. Everyone should know by now. Those that continue to try to keep the peace in the auditorium generally have a cast member make the announcement. Often, audiences are cleverly asked to turn off their cell-phones in order to preserve the period of the show they are about to see.
The Tony for Best Request, however, goes to Waitress, where the warnng was put to song with a deadline– ‘by the time I finish.’
The Tony nominations will be officially broadcast on the morning of May 3rd, with Patina Miller and Andrew Rannells doing the honors. We’re making a couple of presumptious predictions ourselves.
Neither the smalltown-friendly allure of Waitress nor the bright shine of Bright Star, nor the big concept of Shuffle Along… can take the prize from Hamilton.
The contest for Best among musicals leading ladies is always one that excites, and this year is no exception.
Audra McDonald is a powerhouse performer with 6 Tonys to her credit. Jessie Mueller is a Tony winning actor whose charm shines in every role she takes. These two are the likely contenders for the 2016 Best Lead Actress in a Musical, with Bright Star‘s Carmen Cusack giving them a long-shot’s run for the gold.