Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
The Impact of Shuffle Along
Also see Mark's review of A Raisin in the Sun
This show has it all. It has the back story of musician Eubie Blake and how he began his career, his meeting with lyricist Noble Sissle, and their collaboration on the groundbreaking Broadway show Shuffle Along, which premiered in 1921 at the 63rd Street Music Hall, well away from the center of the Broadway theatre district.
This two-hour retrospective has music, dance, film clips, and Langston Hughes poetry; it is packed with delightful snippets bout how the show came about in spite of the long odds against it.
The original Shuffle Along show went on for 504 performances and at one point 63rd Street had to be made one way in order to avoid the "curtain time traffic jams." The show launched the careers of such luminaries as Josephine Baker (who had to wait until she turned 17 in order to perform), Florence Mills, Fredi Washington, and Paul Robeson.
This new retrospect was conceived and written by Bill Rudman, the driving force behind The Musical Theater Project. He shares hosting duties for this production with Karamu President and CEO Tony F. Sias, who also lends his wonderful singing and poem recitation voice to the proceedings.
Tony is joined by vocalists George Foley, Joe Hunter, Treva Offutt, Evelyn Wright, and Justin C. Woody. The incredible orchestra is made up of Joe Hunter on piano, Bryan Thomas on bass, and Ray Porrello on drums, appearing as the Joe Hunter Trio with George Foley as Guest Ragtime Pianist. Keeping the sound crisp and clear is Jeremy E. Dobbins, who had the most challenging of jobs balancing the various instruments and vocals on the superb new sound system in the newly remodeled Jelliffe Theatre.
In total, the audience is exposed to 18 numbers by Eubie Blake and Nobel Sissle, with many of the songs from the original score of Shuffle Along. Such endearing classics as "In Honeysuckle Time," "Ain't You Comin' Back to Maryland, Mary Ann?," "Shuffle Along," "Love Will Find a Way," "(I'm Just) Wild About Harry," and Evelyn Wright"s showstopping solo "Low Down Blues." This is the ultimate feel-good evening of theater, as you will find yourself tapping along to the syncopated rhythm from this 1920s classic.
Sometimes theater goes beyond its scope by offering not only entertainment but education as well. This is the case with the Musical Theater Project / Karamu House production of The Impact of Shuffle Along. It is an evening of music, vocals, poetry, dance and storytelling that will delight everyone who is fortunate to attend.
The Musical Theater Project / Karamu House The Impact of Shuffle Along, through February 10, 2019, at Karamu House, Jelliffe Theatre, 2355 East 85th Street, Cleveland OH. For information at tickets, visit karamuhouse.org or call 216-795-7077.