Sunday, July 10, 2016

Shuffle Along — The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

What an absolutely amazing and incredible musical. From the moment the curtain goes up. Well actually even before the curtain does up you hear the cast practicing their tap skills.

Here's a review of the show:
There are a lot of impressive moments from this star-studded cast. Warren gives a delightfully unhinged performance of "I'm Simply Full of Jazz" that leaves us suspecting that "Jazz" is code for "cocaine." Porter stops the show with his soaring and expressive vocals on "Low Down Blues." As Miller, Mitchell is Obama-like in his inspirational oratory, making a case for his character as the general who marshaled this show into existence. Playing the composers with eerie authenticity, Henry and Dixon feel like they were ripped from the talkies. Buzzing around the periphery, Brooks Ashmanskas gives a comic tour de force as every white person in the play. 

Delivering the evening's most touching performance, McDonald sensitively portrays a talented woman who fears her moment may be passing her by. This is especially clear in a scene in which Lottie coaches Florence Mills (also Warren), only to see the younger performer leapfrog her into international stardom. McDonald's palpable chemistry with Dixon makes her storyline all the more heartbreaking: We see Lottie give up professional opportunities just to be with this married man.
 The story is presented this way:
Rather than presenting a revival of the 1921 musical comedy, Wolfe (who wrote the new book) pulls the camera back to tell the story of the creative team: composer Eubie Blake (Brandon Victor Dixon), lyricist Noble Sissle (Joshua Henry), and comedians Aubrey Lyles (Tony winner Billy Porter) and F.E. Miller (Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell). The show they're writing stars Chitlin' Circuit headliner Lottie Gee (six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald) and the zany Gertrude Saunders (Adrienne Warren) leading a cast of talented black performers from around the country. Using music from the original, Wolfe charts the production's unlikely journey from out-of-town tryouts in Baltimore and D.C. to wandering the wilderness of Pennsylvania and finally landing at the 63rd Street Music Hall in New York, where it became an instant hit.
The sad part is that the four never (Blake, Sissle, Lyles and Miller) wrote another musical. The success of the first drove them apart.

Here's a copy of the original program. I had to splice it together because it was too big to fit on my scanner.

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