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"Shuffle Along", 'Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 And All That Followed', at The Music Box
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"Shuffle Along", 'Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 And All That Followed', at The Music Box

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Scott Rudin, Roy Furman,
Columbia Live Stage, Center Theatre/Group
et al.

Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell
Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon, Joshua Henry

Shuffle Along
Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921
And All That Followed

(Shuffle Along… Website)

Music & Lyrics by Noble Sissle & Eubie Blake
Original Book by F.E. Miller & Aubrey Lyles
Book by George C. Wolfe

Featuring Adrienne Warren, Amber Imam, Brooks Ashmanskas
And an ensemble of actors/singers/dancers

Directed by George C. Wolfe
Choreographed by Savion Glover
Music Supervision, Arrangements, Orchestrations: Daryl Waters

The Music Box
239 West 45th Street
A Shubert Organization Theatre

Scenic Design: Santo Loquasto
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer
Sound Design: Scott Lehrer
Hair Design: Mia M. Neal
Casting: Jordan Thaler, CSA & Heidi Griffiths, CSA
Production Stage Manager: Lisa Dawn Cave
Production Manager: Aurora Productions
Music Coordinator: Seymour Red Press
Music Director: Shelton Becton
Press Representative: DKC/O&M
Company Manager: Penelope Daulton
Executive Producers: Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 5, 2016

When it comes to pure dance and song, there is no show currently on Broadway that compares to the expanded revival of Shuffle Along, with the add-on title, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 And All That Followed. On an unrivaled level of entertainment, Audra McDonald’s sultry vocals make you want to rewind the sound in your mind, as you’ve never heard these songs with such tonal excellence. The program does not list the show’s musical numbers, but Ms. McDonald’s “I’m Just Wild about Harry”, an original show tune from the plot about a mayoral candidate, was a showstopper. This new show has had delayed opening dates and some Tony drama about whether it’s categorized as a revival or new musical, as the 1921 original show, at the 63rd Street Music Hall, did not include some new material from this show’s Director, George C. Wolfe, and Choreographer, Savion Glover. The new dialogue educates the audience about the socio-cultural climate in 1921, when black performers often performed in additional, coal blackface, and the challenges the 1921 team faced in bringing this all-black show to mainstream theater. Further incarnations of Shuffle Along may be synthesized to the original book, especially for the small stage, with projected or spoken text to fill in the complicated, historical background.

The 1921 Shuffle Along book was written by F.E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles. They teamed up with lyricist, Noble Sissle and composer, Eubie Blake for the realization of their dream, a Broadway show by and starring African-American musicians, actors, dancers, singers, and conductor. With starts and misses, they arrived twenty-one blocks north of 42nd Street, at 63rd Street, between Broadway and Central Park West, and the show Shuffle Along lasted on 63rd Street over a year, until 1922, when it went on tour for another three years. As Miller, Brian Stokes Mitchell was warm, classy, and masterful, and his professional partner, Lyles, was none other than the vibrant, loquacious, over-the-top, Billy Porter. They complimented each other as the story and songs and all-that-tap unfolded. Joshua Henry performed the role of Sissle, and Brandon Victor Dixon was Blake, creating tune after tune, some of which were then rehearsed and later performed in real time in this show. Mr. Henry was charismatic and charming, and Mr. Dixon plays a romantic, married musician in love with the sexy, sassy singer, Lottie Gee (Ms. McDonald). Unfortunately, the plot of the original Shuffle Along musical (the audience receives actual replications of the 1921 program, along with the new Playbill) becomes secondary to the enacted, stream of obstacles in the making of the show. The effect is esoteric and fragmented.

Adrienne Warren, as Gertrude Saunders and Florence Mills, brought down the house, as she did in Bring It On: The Musical. She’s clearly ready for a future, starring role. Amber Imam, as Eva, Mattie Wilkes, and Madame-Madame, was also incandescent and riveting. Brooks Ashmanskas, in a variety of comedic, devious roles, was a pro and trooper, always drawing the eye and a chuckle. But, another unrivaled star of this show, next to Ms. McDonald, is Savion Glover, who has choreographed retro tap routines that charge The Music Box with syncopated rhythms in mind-boggling speed. You see the tapping feet in real time, but the clicking tempi are swifter and softer, or smoother and saucier, than one can imagine. The ensemble, as The Harmony Kings, The Jazz Jasmines, The Dancin’ Boys, and The Jimtown Flappers, make you time travel back almost a century, in the stunning, sensational moment. Mr. Wolfe has directed to maximize the poignant plight and pluck of this determined, persevering troupe, with some stage-door plot twists that make you root for that opening 63rd Street Music Hall, May 23, 1921 curtain.

Another star is Santo Loquasto, a seasoned, crème de la crème designer, who has created sparkling scenery, including the beautifully framed and lit, stage within the stage, and he even adds a long red convertible for the team’s triumphal celebration. Ann Roth’s costumes include ruffles, top hats, tails, tapestry coats, decorative hats, fur stoles, and shimmying, straight dresses. Scott Lehrer’s sound makes every tune vivacious and luscious, with Daryl Waters’ orchestrations ever so sumptuous. The Fisher-Eisenhauer lighting duo adds luminosity to each song and dance number. Shelton Becton, Conductor, keeps the Shuffle Along Orchestra ebullient and energized, especially in the up-tempo numbers. This is a show worth revisiting soon, to experience these gorgeous tunes and rambunctious tap routines once again, and to catch Ms. McDonald as Lottie, before she takes her leave. Kudos to all, and kudos to Miller, Lyles, Sissle, and Blake.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at