Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald Will Reunite on Broadway in Shuffle Along, Billy Porter Joins Them

News   Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald Will Reunite on Broadway in Shuffle Along, Billy Porter Joins Them Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry will join record-breaking Tony winner Audra McDonald in the upcoming production of Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.

Scott Rudin is producing the show, which will start previews at the Music Box Theatre March 14, 2016, and open April 21. George C. Wolfe will write a new book as well as direct, and Savion Glover will choreograph.

The backstage story is about the making of one of the first all-black Broadway musical hits that was also written by African-Americans. It opened the door for black performers and writers on the stage during the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.

Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell in <i>Ragtime</i>
Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell in Ragtime

“In May 1921, the new musical Shuffle Along became the unlikeliest of hits, significantly altering the face of the Broadway musical as well as that of New York City. By the time Shuffle Along stumbled into town after a back-breaking pre-Broadway tour, it was deeply in debt and set to open at a remote Broadway house on West 63rd Street. In a season full of spectacles, such as Sally — a Ziegfeld musical — and another edition of George White’s Scandals, Shuffle Along’s failure was almost a foregone conclusion," press notes state.

"New York City was still in the throes of the Depression of 1920. And despite being celebrated vaudeville performers, Miller and Lyles and Sissle and Blake had never performed on Broadway, much less written a musical. But with an infectious jazz score and exuberant dancing, Shuffle Along [which contained the hit "I'm Just Wild About Harry"] ignited not just Broadway but all of New York City. George Gershwin, Fanny Brice, Al Jolson, Langston Hughes, and famed critic George Jean Nathan were among the many fans who repeatedly flocked to West 63rd Street to see a cast which — during its run of 504 performances — featured such incipient luminaries as Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, Florence Mills, Fredi Washington, and Adelaide Hall. Because of Shuffle Along, Uptown and Downtown met and became one.”

Mitchell won a Tony Award for his performance in Kiss Me, Kate. He also received three nominations for Ragtime, King Hedley II and Man of La Mancha. He will play book writer and performer F.E. Miller. A Tony winner for Kinky Boots, Porter’s Broadway credits also include Smokey Joe’s Café, Grease, Five Guys Named Moe and Miss Saigon. He will play Aubrey Lyles, a writer and performer.

Dixon and Henry will play the songwriting team of Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle. Recently seen at City Center’s Encores! Off Center production of The Wild Party, Dixon has appeared on Broadway in Motown and The Color Purple, for which he received a Tony nomination. Henry is a two-time Tony nominee for The Scottsboro Boys and Violet, and he has also appeared in Porgy and Bess, Bring It On: The Musical and American Idiot.

McDonald, who won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, has also won Tonys for Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime, A Raisin in the Sun and Porgy and Bess.  She will play as the 1920s headliner Lottie Gee, the star of Shuffle Along.

With music by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, Shuffle Along premiered in May of 1921 and had a run variously recorded as 484 performances and 504 performances, either one a remarkably long run by the standards of the time. The plot involved two old friends who run against one another for the office of mayor of their town, each promising to hire the other if elected. Once in office, however, the two find themselves at odds. The show was noted for its score and for a comic fight scene in Act II. That score included "In Honeysuckle Time," "Love Will Find a Way," "Bandana Time," "If You Haven't Been Vamped by a Brownskin, You Haven't Been Vamped at All," and its biggest hit, "I'm Just Wild About Harry."

The new musical will use the Blake & Sissle music with an original libretto by Wolfe. The show will represent the first collaboration between Wolfe and tap master Glover since their Tony-winning Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk in 1996.

Daryl Waters will provide music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations. The production will feature scenic design by Santo Loquasto, costume design by Ann Roth, lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer and sound design by Scott Lehrer. Shelton Becton will be the musical director.

Wolfe won the Tony Award twice, as director of both a musical and a play: Bring in 'da Noise in 1996 and Angels in America: Millennium Approaches in 1993. He also directed 16 Broadway productions, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Topdog/Underdog, plus Jelly's Last Jam, The Wild Party, Elaine Stritch: At Liberty and Caroline, Or Change.

Read the Playbill.com feature by Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins, in which she shares her memories of working on Jelly's Last Jam with Wolfe

Glover made his Broadway debut in 1983 at age 10 in The Tap Dance Kid, but has spent most of the last 18 years touring with his own dance troupe.

During its long run the original Shuffle Along employed at various times the future stars Josephine Baker, Florence Mills, Adelaide Hall and Paul Robeson. After its initial run the show had two revivals, in 1933 and 1952. Songs from the score were heard in the 1978 Broadway revue, Eubie! "

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