ON THE ROAD -- April 1998
Broadway insiders warned director George C. Wolfe, producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival, not to move his acclaimed Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk from the Public Theater, where he had developed the tap-rap musical with star Savion Glover, to Broadway. Four Tony Awards and three years later, the show is still running on Broadway and has made a mint. And, yet, the same warnings were issued when the Public decided to produce the national touring company with its own money. Again people cried, "Wolfe." And, again, the show, which began its national tour in Detroit last September, has proven to be a critical and box-office success.
This re-telling of African-American history through a kinetic fusion of tap and rap, which plays at the Ahmanson Theatre through April 26, has struck deep and responsive chords wherever it has played, largely because the Public has brilliantly marketed the show by reaching out to both traditional and non-traditional theatre-going segments of the population.
"The show is about the rhythms of America; it's told from a specifically African-American point of view, but given the cultural complexity of who we are and what we are, if I tell my story, it's going to end up being yours," said Wolfe about the explosively percussive historical pageant, which begins on slave ships, continues through the stirrings of ragtime and jazz in the industrialized urban centers to the black caricatures of Hollywood and, finally, to a scene in which four well-dressed black men attempt and fail to flag down a New York taxi. "This is not Ain't Misbehavin' with the Pointer Sisters, this is not Stomp. This is its own thing, and I wanted to be sure that it wouldn't be dismissed or poorly marketed."
Variety critic Chris Jones, reflecting the opinion of many of his colleagues, noted that the show was likely to equally attract blacks and whites, as well as giving presenters the opportunity to appeal "to audiences far younger than their graying subscribers."
The reviews have also noted that the absence of Savion Glover, the charismatic star who won a Tony for his original choreography and was nominated for one as leading performer, has not had a deleterious effect on the production as many suspected it might. Praise has been heaped on Derick K. Grant, who now leads the cast of eight men and one woman. "Savion is an astounding artist," said Wolfe. "But the show is an astounding show unto itself. The challenge has always been to sustain the raw, combustible energy, something so instinctive and passionate, that makes this show happen. "
Finding that special chemistry in a performer has been far from easy. Casting for the road and for Broadway replacements, in fact, has been a nightmare. Wolfe noted that while Glover unquestionably has had an impact, drawing numerous young black men into a field they never would have considered before, it is still difficult to find performers who have the finely honed skills they can then fold into the demands of the material. Part of the problem is that the show, by its nature, must be predominantly youthful. The present ensemble ranges in age from 15 to 27. "You cast the show with anybody older, and it's just not the same thing."