by Celeste Montaño
Shuffle Along is finally swinging back onto Broadway. After beginning previews on March 15, the highly anticipated musical revival with a ridiculously star-studded cast opens tonight, April 28, at the Music Box Theatre.
Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed tells the forgotten story of “the little show that could,” wherein edgy jazz numbers found a place on Broadway and rocked New York in the 1920’s, making it the first Broadway production with an all-black cast that was also written and directed by African-Americans. Though initially relegated to an isolated theatre on West 63rd Street, the show caused such a buzz upon opening that 63rd was turned into a one-way street to accommodate the traffic jams. The show also proved notable for integrating the audience: it was the first time African-Americans were allowed to sit in the orchestra section of a Broadway show.
Though the initial production of Shuffle Along was historically significant in more ways than one, it has mostly been left out of history books. Enter: Tony Award-winner George C. Wolfe. As the writer and director of the 2016 incarnation, the show is largely a product of his efforts. He has borrowed notable scenes and songs from the 1921 revue while simultaneously featuring new material that sheds light on the behind-the-scenes goings-on of that initial staging.
The Shuffle Along of today stars such notables as Tony winners Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Billy Porter, and Tony nominees Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry. It also marks the third collaboration between Wolfe and tap legend Savion Glover, who is choreographing the show with intricate routines that draw regular cheers every night and are sure to earn a Tony nomination.
In her latest Drama Doodle for Stage Door Dish, cartoonist Courtney Powitz updates an original poster from the 1921 production of Shuffle Along, highlighting the 1920’s glamour that McDonald and Porter portray so flawlessly as Lottie Gee and Aubrey Lyles.