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

 

 

 

 

Posted in musical, musical comedy, musical theater

Something with a breakfast theme

Brian d’Arcy James is having the time of his life.

In the context of Something Rotten!, at the St. James Theatre for what is destined to be a very long run, his jubiliation seems unwarranted.

1. 3566Nick Bottom, the character James so winniningly inhabits, is a failed playwright, who has lost the patronage of Lord Clapham (Peter Bartlett.)  Nick’s deep envy of Will Shakespeare’s (Christian Borle) meteoric success gnaws at him.

To help with the family finances, Nick’s wife Bea (Heidi Blickenstaff) disguises herself as a boy in order to work at menial labor. She says woman should be allowed to work; “it’s the ’90s, soon it will be 1600; there’s a woman on the throne….” Nick’s writing partner is his brother, Nigel (John Criani), a talented young man who admires Shakespeare.

Something Rotten B-Roll

Nick is reduced to  paying a soothsayer, Nostradamus (Brad Oscar), for ideas from theatre-future. The result of the collaboration between Nick and the psychic is the creation of the world’s first Musical. When Lord Clapham withdraws his support, Shylock (Gerry Vichi) offers his patronage, and complications ensue.

2. 3562Something Rotten!, with a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell and music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, is a joyous compiliation of Bard and Broadway jokes, wonderful dance and song numbers. Casey Nicholaw directs and provides the jubilant choreography in Something Rotten!

“Welcome to the Renaissance” is the anthem with which the Minstrel (Michael James Scott)  guides us into Something Rotten!

Rounding out the cast are the delightful Kate Reinders as Brother Jeremiah’s (Brooks Ashmanskas) daughter and Nigel’s love interest, Portia; along with a superb swing chorus in Something Rotten!

As for Tony nods, Something Rotten! has garnered 10 well-earned nominations, two of which have gone to Nicholaw for direction and dance-making. Something Rotten! is up for the Best New Musical of 2015 Award  Brian d’Arcy James got the nomination for Best Lead Actor; Brad Oscar and Christian Borle (a winner for Peter and the Starcatcher) are in competition for the Best Featured Actor distinction.

Something Rotten! is something deliciously witty, clever and entertaining.

For tickets and more information about Something Rotten!, please visit  http://rottenbroadway.com/.