Saturday, March 25, 2023
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Shuffle Along – or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for

The “buzz” (social media) way back when in the 20’s was that composer Eubie Blake (Brandon Victor Dixon) and lyricist Noble Sissle (Joshua Henry) would not be remembered. They were black. And to be dismissed. To be forgotten.

Director George C. Wolfe has attempted to put that “buzz” to rest with his hybrid production of SHUFFLE ALONG – or the making of the musical sensation of 1921 and all that followed – a show that runs much longer than its title.

It’s a case of trying to tell too much in one fell swoop. Part documentary and part pure and exciting entertainment. Choreographer Savion Glover is its savior. With his exceptional tap routines with an ensemble of exceptional dancers.

One production number quickly following another thankfully giving you little time to consider the story line about the attempt to raise enough money, rehearse and tour a show called SHUFFLE ALONG – with all its trials and tribulations along its bumpy road until it reaches the 63rd Street Music Hall in Manhattan and opens to glorious reviews for its original jazz and syncopated score. That is only Act I.

There is an insert to the regular program. A program with vintage photos. It is a time capsule of the show and its creators and stars. SHUFFLE ALONG was a “political” musical/revue about a mayoral race. We see very little of it here. Except for the terrific first act finale – “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and an almost forgettable ballad “Love Will Find a Way.”

This SHUFFLE ALONG depicts how it almost didn’t get produced. It is not a replica of the original production. An almost entirely new show per se using the entertaining songs of Sissle and Blake. Mostly performed by the team of F.E. Miller (Brian Stokes Mitchell) and Aubrey Lyles (Billy Porter). Two excellent performers.

Then there is Audra McDonald as Lottie Gee. The dragon lady diva with a powerful and majestic voice and an enormous smile who falls in love with Eubie despite his being married – hoping that love will find a way as she taps her troubles away.

You must be quick to catch her however as she is pregnant and will leave the show – temporarily – July 24 through the fall of 2016. Rhiannon Giddens making her Broadway debut will be her temporary replacement. Savion Glover is also being added to the cast – somewhere, somehow.

The dourer by the hour Act II relates what happened to one and all after the show became a hit. It’s an up and downward spiral ending with a list of obits.

In a series of comic relief roles is the incomparable Brooks Ashmanskas - he of the mobile face and expert double take and perfect comic timing.

The costumes by Ann Roth are elaborate and colorful and there are tons of them. One wonders how the original production with its enormous cast could afford such finery with ticket ranging from .50 to 2.50 – somehow they did with enough profits to by furs and watches and cars.

If it’s spectacular dancing that you crave that sparkles along with the smiles and the costumes SHUFFLE ALONG is the show for you. At The Music Box Theatre.

Photo: Julieta Cervantes

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