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Audra McDonald Will Shuffle Along With Savion Glover & George C. Wolfe

A trio of Broadway Black powerhouses are set to collaborate on an important but forgotten hit. Audra McDonald will return to the theater next spring in the backstage historical tribute Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. Produced by Scott Rudin, the jazz musical will be written and directed by George C. Wolfe and choreographed by tap virtuoso Savion Glover, marking that team’s first collaboration since the 1996 smash, Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk. McDonald will play 1920s star Lottie Gee, with other cast to be announced.

The new producShuffle Alongtion traces the path to unexpected success and the creative legacy of the 1921 all-Black revue Shuffle Along, which was conceived by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles and featured music by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, four celebrated vaudeville performers who met at a 1920 NAACP benefit. As one of the first all-Black Broadway musical hits that was also written by Blacks, Shuffle Along significantly altered the face of the Broadway musical as well as that of New York City. The show opened the door for Black performers and writers on the stage during the period in the 1920s known as the Harlem Renaissance.

Notwithstanding its success, Shuffle Along was not without its challenges. By contemporary standards, it remains problematic: some actors performed in blackface and the score included a song about how lighter-skinned Black women are more attractive than women with darker skin. Shuffle Along arrived in Depression-era New York mired in debt from a pre-Broadway tour, set to open at a remote Broadway house on West 63rd Street. And despite being celebrated vaudeville performers, Miller and Lyles and Sissle and Blake had never performed on Broadway, much less written a musical.

However, Shuffle Along immediately caught on with its jazzy score and exuberant song-and-dance styles. “It was a groundbreakinshuffle along 2g moment – they were creating these dances in the streets,” Mr. Glover said. “I’m hoping to reignite that sense of exuberance – that sense of joy through expression.” The plot involved two old friends who run against one another for the office of mayor of their town, each promising to hire the other if elected. Once in office, however, the two find themselves at odds. “I’m in love with these characters, and I’m in love with their bravery – brilliant, astonishing, extraordinary artists created a show that redefined rhythm and entertainment and vitality on Broadway,” Mr. Wolfe said. Shuffle Along ran for over 480 performances, helping to launch the careers of such artists as Josephine Baker, Adelaide Hall, Florence Mills, Fredi Washington and Paul Robeson.

Audra McDonald made Tony Awards history in 2014 with her sixth win, becoming the first performer to have taken home Broadway’s highest honor in all four acting categories in which she is eligible. She has won twice as featured actress in a musical, for Carousel in 1994 and Ragtime in 1998; twice for featured actress in a play, in Master Class in 1996 and A Raisin in the Sun in 2004; and for lead actress in a musical in 2012 for The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. McDonald completed the grand slam last year, winning for lead actress in a play with her transformative portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. Wolfe and Glover both won Tonys for their work on Bring in ‘da Noise, and Wolfe had previously won directing honors for the two-part Angels in America.

Previews for Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed begin on March 14, 2016, at the Music Box Theatre, with official opening set for April 21.

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