Black Musicals on Broadway

May 17, 2016
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Cicely TysonLate, great playwright Lorraine Hansberry appropriated her “A Raisin in the Sun” title from a famous Langston Hughes poem which asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?” The same question can be asked of the visions of a greater African-American presence on Broadway.

“Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” And, today, exploding with a fresh sense of urgency and dignity evident on the stage today, black actresses, actors and other professionals continue make inroads and leave their impressions on the Great White Way.

“This is an amazing time to be part of the African-American theater, ” said playwright and New York University Associate Professor Michael Dinwiddie. “The walls have been breached, and stories that reflect on our lives are reaching a broad public.

“At last, we’re beginning to accept theater that allows for many visions and many voices. Both as consumers and creators of American culture, we have truly arrived.”

Since its first appearance on a Broadway stage, “A Raisin in the Sun” has been a perennial favorite. Hansberry was the first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway. And the classic 1959 play will be summoned once more on April 3 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, featuring Diahann Carroll and Denzel Washington. Previews begin at the theater on March 18.

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'Kinky Boots' stars Billy Porter (l.) and Stark Sands on stage in the multi-award-winning Broadway hit.

A decade ago, rap mogul Sean (P. Diddy) Combs portrayed the dreaming, scheming Walter Lee Younger with five-time Tony Award-winning Broadway superstar Audra McDonald as his co-star.

And the visually and aurally attractive McDonald (who is tied with for most Tony Award wins by an actor with stage legends Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris) brought to mind her role as “Bess” opposite Norman Lewis’ Porgy in the 2012 revival of Gershwin’s immortal musical that has helped keep black dancers, singers and actors off the unemployment lines.

Producers know there is a good chance of success with a proven classic, such as Hansberry’s “Raisin in the Sun” or works by late playwright August Wilson, most notably “Fences.”

'Kinky Boots' stars Billy Porter (l.) and Stark Sands on stage in the multi-award-winning Broadway hit.But African-American actors, singers and dancers can’t afford to wait for a black-oriented production to entertain audiences — or to pay their bills. So many black performers appear in predominantly white productions.

Evgenia Eliseeva

'All The Way, ' coming soon to Broadway, with (l. to r.) Michael McKean, 'Breaking Bad' star Bryan Cranston and Brandon J. Dirden. The political drama stars Dirden as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., McKean as J. Edgar Hoover and Cranston as President Lyndon Johnson.

Arriving soon on Broadway will be Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan’s “All the Way, ” and publicist Irene Gandy of Jeffrey Richards Associates is raving about the performance of Brandon Dirden as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the new political drama, which stars Emmy Award-winning actor Bryan Cranston as President Lyndon Johnson.

Joining Dirden in the play will be cast members Roslyn Ruff, who portrays Coretta Scott King and Fannie Lou Hamer, William Jackson Harper will star as Stokely Carmichael, Peter Jay Fernandez will play NAACP head Roy Wilkins, and J. Bernard Calloway will portray civil rights leader the Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

Previews for “All the Way” at the Neil Simon Theatre, start Feb. 10, and the show opens on March 6.

Cicely Tyson’s commanding role in Horton Foote’s “The Trip to Bountiful” last year won her a Tony for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play. This revival of “Bountiful, ” based on Foote’s 1953 show with a white cast, also starred black leading actors Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Williams and Condola Rashad tackling the play’s universal themes in dramatic fashion.

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'All The Way,' coming soon to Broadway, with (l. to r.) Michael McKean, 'Breaking Bad' star Bryan Cranston and Brandon J. Dirden. The political drama stars Dirden as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. , McKean as J. Edgar Hoover and Cranston as President Lyndon Johnson.Singer Fantasia performing in the lead role of the musical 'After Midnight.' Her stint ends on Feb. 9, but Toni Braxton and Kenny (Babyface) Edmonds take over the part on March 18.

“Pippin, ” the award-winning musical that originally ran on Broadway from 1972 to 1977, has been a success for some black performers in its debut and present revival at the Music Box Theatre.

In the original hit show, African-American actor Ben Vereen, the leading player, won the 1973 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, for his role. That year, Tony Awards for Best Choreography and Best Direction of a Musical went to legendary stage veteran Bob Fosse for Pippin.

Led by star Patina Miller winning the Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Pippin flexed its revival muscles in a major way last year’s award ceremonies. Diane Paulus earned an award for Best Direction of a Musical, the restaged show copped the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical and Andrea Martin won Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical.

But there’s room for new, successful predominately black productions to make waves on Broadway. And there’s no need to rely on evergreen revival plays to do it. “Motown - The Musical, ” at the Lunte-Fontanne Theatre, is splendid and redeeming evidence of that.

Michael Stewart/WireImage

'Motown: The Musical' opening night with (l.to r. in photo far l.) Bryan Terrell Clark, Berry Gordy Jr., Diana Ross, Brandon Victor Dixon, Jalisia DeKae and Raymond Luke Jr.

For the most part, the show is like sitting through the soundtrack of generations who’ve lived, loved and grown old to the greatest hits of Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson and other Motown favorites. But popular musical is also an opportunity to gather some notion of Motown founder and show producer Berry Gordy’s genius and the making of a musical empire.

“After Midnight” has a similar magic as it captures Harlem’s glittering, glamorous night life, the poetry of Langston Hughes, and most rewardingly, Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars performing mainly the music of Duke Ellington. These glorious sounds are beautifully embellished by American Idol-winning songstress Fantasia Barrino, whose energy guarantees the joints will be jumping. Barrino, who kicked off the “After Midnight” guest role when show opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, ends her stint ends on Feb. 9. But stars Toni Braxton and Kenny (Babyface) Edmonds are due to take on the part from March 18 through 30.

When “Kinky Boots” kicked in with a half-dozen Tonys in 2013, one of them belonged to Billy Porter, who stars in the role of Lola. The show is presently at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

Porter is a versatile actor and is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University College of Fine Arts with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in drama, as well as a certificate from the Professional Program in screenwriting at UCLA.

Jason Kempin/WireImage for Tony Award Product

Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks is one of the talented writers keeping Broadway productions vibrant.

Black performers do not abound in every musical, but they are in abundance in Disney’s upcoming “Aladdin” show with James Monroe Iglehart as Genie (known for his memorable role as Bobby in “Memphis”). The show, which begins in previews at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Feb. 26, also stars ageless veteran Clifton Davis as Sultan, and Nikki Long as captain of the dance ensemble with several spirited black dancers. The show opens on March 20.

Singer Fantasia performing in the lead role of the musical 'After Midnight.' Her stint ends on Feb. 9, but Toni Braxton and Kenny (Babyface) Edmonds take over the part on March 18. 'Motown: The Musical' opening night with (l.to r. in photo far l.) Bryan Terrell Clark, Berry Gordy Jr., Diana Ross, Brandon Victor Dixon, Jalisia DeKae and Raymond Luke Jr.
Source: www.nydailynews.com
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