History-Making Production is Brainchild of George C. Wolfe
On March 15, 2016, previews began for a new musical entitled Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. The show’s concept derives from a musical revue that played Broadway in the year 1921 called Shuffle Along, which was a groundbreaking production for African Americans on Broadway and for New York City race relations on a grand scale. This new show is produced by Scott Rudin, with a book by George C. Wolfe, and it is also directed by Wolfe. It incorporates the original 1921 score by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, as well as elements of the original book by F. E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles. The music is arranged and orchestrated by Daryl Waters, and the choreography is by Savion Glover. Wolfe and Glover last collaborated on their 1996 Tony-winning production of Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk, preceded by the 1992 production of Jelly’s Last Jam. As director, Wolfe has earned two Tony Awards, for Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk, as well as the 1993 production of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, and his additional directing credits include Lucky Guy, The Normal Heart, A Free Man of Color, Caroline, or Change, and Topdog / Underdog.
This new musical dares to defy precedent by reincorporating elements of a show that appeared on Broadway almost a century prior, in order to pay homage to it while also expanding the story of all that followed since its premiere. The 1921 production of Shuffle Along was history-making; it was the first Broadway show not only to star an all African-American cast, but also to have been written and developed by an all African-American creative team. The show arrived at its remote Broadway venue on West 63rd Street after a back-breaking national tour in dilapidated condition and serious debt, only to compete against major hits for that season including a Ziegfeld musical called Sally and a production of George White’s Scandals. While all signs pointed to failure, the show’s exuberant spirit and brilliant jazz score won the hearts of New Yorkers far and wide, including George Gershwin, Langston Hughes, Fanny Brice, and many other champions of this show, allowing it to run for approximately 500 performances, impressively long for that time. In the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Shuffle Along forever changed Broadway’s attitude towards African-American artists, as well as New York’s culture on a greater scale.
This incredible production is embodied by a cast who matches its greatness. Audra McDonald, who is the only person in history to have won Tony Awards in all four acting categories, stars as the headliner of the 1921 production, Lottie Gee. Her past Broadway credits include Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime, A Raisin in the Sun, and Porgy and Bess. She is joined by Brian Stokes Mitchell, who will play book writer and actor F. E. Miller, and whose past credits include a Tony Award winning performance in Kiss Me, Kate, as well as Tony nominated performances for Ragtime, Man of La Mancha, and King Hedley II. The role of writer and performer Aubrey Lyles is played by Billy Porter, who recently took home a Tony Award for his role in Kinky Boots. Other cast members include Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry as the songwriting duo Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, respectively. It is important to note that Audra McDonald will not perform in the production from June 20, 2016 to September 25, 2016, as she will be reprising her role as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill in a production in London’s West End. Shuffle Along will officially open on April 28, 2016, and is scheduled for an open-ended run.
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