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A Must See

Shuffle Along Is Getting Ready To Go Into Full Swing!

When the jazzy Shuffle Along opened on Broadway in May 1921, I imagine the thrill could have been likened to the 2008 U.S. Election night. A night where the world experienced Democratic Party nominee Senator Barack Obama becoming the first African-American president.

It was a time that was “roaring,” right? World War I and the depression following it was over, and an economic boom was in the works. The emancipation of slavery had 56 years under its belt. The Great White Way was abuzz with as many as 50 new musicals that would open in a single season. Enthusiastic patrons were willing to shell out top dollar for a seat.

Shuffle Along became an instantaneous hit as the first major production to be produced, written and performed entirely by African Americans since the George WalkerBert Williams Bandanna Land (1908). Before that it was the 1902 In Dahomey, also featuring Walker and Williams. Shuffle Along, however, served as a hallmark to the Harlem Renaissance, contributed to the desegregation of theatres (with Black patrons allowed in orchestra seats rather than restricted to the balcony), and set the stage for nine more African-American musicals by 1924.

The Noble SissleEubie Blake musical – so popular that police created a one-way thoroughfare to the 63rd Street Music Hall to ease the traffic jams – ran for an unprecedented 504 performances through July 1922. Poet Langston Hughes, whose first poem was the 1921 “A Negro Speaks of Rivers,” was among the many repeat attendees. He was so enthralled with the “honey of a show” that he wrote:

“The 1920s were the years of Manhattan’s Black Renaissance…. Certainly it was the musical revue, Shuffle Along, that gave a scintillating send-off to that Negro vogue in Manhattan…. People came back to see it innumerable times. It was always packed…. When I saw it, I was thrilled and delighted…. It gave just the proper push – a pre-Charleston kick – to that Negro vogue of the ‘20s, that spread to books, African sculpture, music and dancing.”

So, when the vintage graphics were revealed for the Shuffle Along website, liken my excitement to all the above for what will mark a 95th anniversary of the pioneering work.

To see the colorfully billed star-quality names – Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry (in an alternating palette of lemon, orange, red and sea green) – my heart did a Charleston flutter reminiscent of when the actors were announced they would share the stage. I grinned looking at “Savion Glover” and “George C. Wolfe” next to the words “choreographed by” and “directed by,” respectively. The duo meet again for the first time since Bring in ‘da Noise/Bring in ‘da Funk.

Full Cast: Adrienne Warren, Darius de Haas, Felicia Boswell, Christian Dante WhiteBrooks Ashmanskas, Amber ImanPhillip Attmore, C.K. Edwards, Afra Hines,Curtis Holland, Adrienne Howard, Kendrick Jones, Lisa LaTouche, Alicia Lundgren, J.C. Montgomery, Erin N. Moore, Janelle Neal, Brittany Parks,Arbender Robinson, Karissa Royster, Britton Smith, Zurin Villanueva, J.L. Williams, Pamela Yasutake, and Richard Riaz Yoder, as previously reported

The 2016 revival of Shuffle Along or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed isn’t set to showcase its “glamour” and “hotcha” until April at the Music Box Theatre. April 21 to be exact, with previews to begin March 14. But people are ready.

The Tony-winning Wolfe, who offers up a new book from the original vaudeville comedians F.E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles, has called Shuffle Along, “the real juice… the real spark, not Black performers performing White people’s vision of Black people.” However, the original show has been critiqued as relying on minstrel stereotypes (Miller and Lyles would even perform in burnt-cork blackface). In fact, a character’s line went something to the effect that the lighter the skin, the more desirable an African American woman.

The musical launched the careers of Josephine Baker, Florence Mills and Adelaide Louise Hall; it featured an impressive 16-woman chorus line; and obliterated taboos with a Black love story being front and center.

For 2015-2016, Broadway will have perhaps its most diverse season (Amazing Grace; Hamilton; The Gin Game; The Color Purple; and Children of a Lesser God) and chances to establish the ever-evasive but always needed renaissance. Whatever you must do to be part of it, don’t drag your feet.

Visit to enter your email for news and updates. Tickets go on sale Sept. 12.

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