Thursday, May 12, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: Shuffle Along Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Shuffle Along Over to One of the Best Shows on Broadway This Season
By Lauren Yarger
How odd that it should be one of the last shows of the season before I had a winner for the answer to the question I often get, “So what have you seen this year that you loved?” And odder still, that it should be Shuffle Along Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed which, truth be told, I had heard nothing good about in previews. That the show was too long and a mess were recurring refrains, so imagine my surprise when, after a postponed opening (the show missed the cutoff this season for the Outer Critics Awards), I found myself in delighted rapture at the musical explosion of excitement on the Music Box Theatre stage.

In Shuffle Along,  we have a chance to see history in the making, not just once, but twice. The Broadway show starring Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Bully Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry (an historical lineup of amazing talent if I ever have seen one) is the story of another musical, Shuffle Along, with music and lyrics by the legendary Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake.

In 1921, the show broke new ground for musical theater and launched the careers of African-American stars  Josephine Baker and Florence Mills and others and helped others, like Lottie Gee (McDonald) stay employed. The song team of Eubie Blake (Dixon) and Noble Sissle (Henry) collaborated with Flournoy Miller (Mitchell) and Aubrey Lyles (Porter) to write the musical, which was the next step for the Vaudeville musicians, and proved that audiences would pay to see shows featuring an African-American love story.

Despite having to take the show on tour without always being able to pay its cast and crew, Shuffle Along landed at the 63rd Street Theater and became a sensation, wowing the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Al Jolson, Fanny Brice and others. President Harry S. Truman even used its tune, “I’m Just Wild About Harry” as his campaign theme. A replica program for the original production is inserted into the show’s Playbill to complete the play-within-a-play theme.

The book by George C. Wolfe, who also directs, follows the creation and staging of the original show a well as the ups and downs in the relationships.  Savion Glover adds thundering, exciting, show-stopping choreography (the opening number will blow you out of your seat and probably will knock Hamilton out of the running at least in one category at the Tonys this year) and Ann Roth provides glittering, colorful costumes to complete a beautiful picture on Santo Loquasto’s set.

McDonald’s perfect delivery brings Lottie’s line a lot of laughs and she’s earning Pregnant Woman of the Year merits tapping up a storm every performance (she will be out on maternity leave beginning July 24 and though Fall 2016 when Grammy Award winner Rhiannon Giddens will make her Broadway debut in the role.) And it’s always a treat to hear Mitchell, Dixon and Henry sing (can Henry just be in every musical, please? His voice is intoxicating). You will recognize some of the tunes like “Love will Find a Way,” “Honeysuckle Time” and “Ain’t It a Shame” Music Directed by Shelton Becton and Supervised, Arranged and Orchestrated by Daryl Waters.

Don’t miss this one. It’s one of the best shows of the season, Hamilton or not, and is two hours and 45 minutes of foot-tapping bliss.

Shuffle Along plays at the Music Box Theatre, 230 W 45th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets currently on sale through Oct. 9 are $69-$169: shufflealongbroadway.com; 212-239-6200.

Additional Casting:
Brooks Ashmanskas, Adrienne Warren, Amber Iman, Phillip Attmore, Alexandria Bradley, Darlesia Cearcy, Darius de Haas, C.K. Edwards, Leo Ash Evens, Afra Hines, Curtis Holland, Jason Holley, Adrienne Howard, Lee Howard, Kendrick Jones, Lisa LaTouche, Alicia Lundgren, JC Montgomery, Erin N. Moore, Janelle Neal, Brittany Parks, Arbender Robinson, Karissa Royster, Britton Smith, Zurin Villanueva, Christian Dante White, Joseph Wiggan, Pamela Yasutake and Richard Riaz Yoder.

Additional Credits:
Wig and Hair Design by Mia M. Neal , Lighting Design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Sound Design by Scott Lehrer

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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