Posted in based on a true story or event, historical musical drama, musical theater, theater

Righting Broadway’s Story

Joshua Henry, Brandon Victor Dixon, Billy Porter and Brian Stokes Mitchell, with Richard Riaz Yoder in Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, featuring music and lyrics by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, book by F.E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles, with a new book and direction by George C. Wolfe and choreography by Savion Glover, at The Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street). © Julieta Cervantes
Joshua Henry, Brandon Victor Dixon, Billy Porter and Brian Stokes Mitchell, with Richard Riaz Yoder in Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, featuring music and lyrics by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, book by F.E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles, with a new book and direction by George C. Wolfe and choreography by Savion Glover, at The Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street).
© Julieta Cervantes

George C. Wolfe has taken a Broadway melody of 1921 and placed it in its historical context. In 1921, the year when Shuffle Along was produced, it was exiled to a theater on 63rd Street. Yes, it was considered a Broadway house, but it was many blocks north of the main stem.

Shuffle Along‘s success, however, was extraordinary. The all-black production team enjoyed critical and popular acclaim, and an unexpectedly long-run of 504 performances.

Shuffle Along made stars of its lead actress, Lottie Gee (Audra McDonald in Wolfe’s retelling) and its creative team. Wolfe’s musical has jettisoned the  F.E. Miller (Brian Stokes Mitchell)-Aubrey Lyles (Billy Porter) book and replaced it with his own, while keeping the music and lyrics from Eubie Blake (Brandon Victor Dixon) and Noble Sissle (Joshua Henry).

Adrienne Warren and company perform “I’m Just Wild About Harry” © Julieta Cervantes
Adrienne Warren and company perform “I’m Just Wild About Harry”
© Julieta Cervantes

Nearly a century later, the musical theater remains indebted to the men and women of color who revolutionized and emboldened Broadway style and syncopation. This is the backstory to Wolfe’s story, but despite the high concept and lofty intentions, the 2016 Shuffle Along… is a very entertaining vaudeville.

Brian Stokes Mitchell, with Adrienne Warren (fourth from left), Billy Porter, Audra McDonald and ensemble © Julieta Cervantes
Brian Stokes Mitchell, with Adrienne Warren (fourth from left), Billy Porter, Audra McDonald and ensemble
© Julieta Cervantes

As it was refreshing to have a musical like Bright Star based on the American idiom of bluegrass, it is welcome to have one that is based on the other all-American art form, tap. The dances, as designed by Tony-award winner (1996 for Bring in Da Noise Bring in Da Funk, and presumptive for 2016 for Shuffle Along…) are masterly. One number takes the cast on a long circuitous train-trip of tryouts in completely mesmerizing taps. The songs are classics from the Blake-Sissle repertoire, including “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find A Way,” from the score for the 1921 Shuffle Along.

The ensemble is excellent, with Brandon Victor Dixon  and Adrienne Warren (bothTony nominated for Featured Actor and Actress) standing out. The always able Brooks Ashmanskas, as the designated white guy in the cast, performs an excellent second act rain-on-their-parade number.

Audra McDonald in © Julieta Cervantes
Audra McDonald in
© Julieta Cervantes

Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, unlike its progenitor, is playing in the heart of Broadway at The Music Box. It is in an open run, although Audra McDonald will exit on July 24th and return in the winter, to be replaced by Rhiannon Giddens. Choreographer and tapper-extraordinaire, Savion Glover will join the cast on July 24th.

George C. Wolfe may be on a mission to right the
story of Broadway’s past, but he does it deftly and
with a showman’s touch

 

 

 

 

Author:

For an opinionated woman such as I, blogging is an excellent outlet. This is one of many fori that I use to bloviate. Enjoy! Comment on my commentary.

3 thoughts on “Righting Broadway’s Story

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s