The new Broadway musical Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed ends its run July 24 after 38 previews and 100 regular performances.
It opened April 28 at the Music Box Theatre after beginning previews March 15.
Heralded by many as a landmark artistic achievement, it was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, but did not win in any of its categories. The new show took the unusual step of opening ”cold” in New York, without an out-of-town tryout. After two workshops in fall 2015, the show began a six-week preview period that included a scheduled four-day hiatus for rewrites.
The backstage story recounts the making of one of the first successful 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.
Director George C. Wolfe also wrote the show’s book with Savion Glover creating the choreography. The new musical uses the original Eubie Blake/Noble Sissle music with an original libretto by Wolfe. The show represents the first collaboration between Wolfe and tap master Glover since their Tony-winning Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk in 1996.
Critics were mixed on the ambitious production, a mix of Broadway history and lavish entertainment that boasted a cast of 34. Read reviews here.
Scott Rudin, the show’s producer, cited the exit of one of the show’s major stars, six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, as a reason for the show’s closure. McDonald and her husband, actor Will Swenson, are expecting their first child together. McDonald announced her pregnancy in May, with news that she would take a leave of absence from the production starting July 24.
Grammy Award-winning singer Rhiannon Giddens had been slated to take on the role of Lottie Gee in McDonald’s absence. Plans had also been underway for Savion Glover, the show’s Tony-winning choreographer, to join the company July 26—the same day as Giddens.
In a statement released announcing the show’s closure, Rudin indicated that advance ticket sales softened with the news that McDonald would be out of the production.
While it never surpassed the $1 million mark, Shuffle Along enjoyed healthy box office business during its run.
The decision to shutter the production proved the strength of McDonald’s stand-alone box office draw in a show that co-stars some of Broadway’s most lauded stars, including Tony winners Brian Stokes Mitchell and Billy Porter, plus Tony nominees Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry.
"Audra McDonald is the biggest star on Broadway, and audiences have been clamoring to see her in this role since the first preview of Shuffle Along in March of this year,” Rudin said in a statement. “She is absolutely extraordinary in the show, and I am filled with gratitude for both her exemplary partnership on Shuffle Along and also for her remarkable resilience and fortitude in doing everything possible to play as many shows as she can, despite the circumstance of her pregnancy. We are thrilled that she and her husband, Will Swenson, are experiencing the opportunity to expand their family — and we wish them all good things as they approach the birth of their child this fall. It has, however, become clear that the need for Audra to take a prolonged and unexpected hiatus from the show has determined the unfortunate inevitability of our running at a loss for significantly longer than the show can responsibly absorb, and we have decided to close the show when she leaves on July 24. On behalf of myself and George C. Wolfe, I want to say how deeply grateful we are to her for everything she gave and continues to give the show. There is simply nobody like her.”
McDonald also offered a statement, adding, “I am overjoyed to be expecting a new addition to my family yet completely heartbroken that our tremendously talented cast and company – my ‘Shuffle Family’ – won't be able to continue telling this incredible story. We are all so fortunate to have worked with—and learned from—the genius that is George C. Wolfe and played a part in bringing this vital and illuminating work to life. I am eternally thankful for the support and compassion the production, especially Scott Rudin, has shown me. While a complete surprise to Will and me, this baby is one of the greatest gifts of our lives.”
Featured in the supporting cast are Brooks Ashmanskas, Adrienne Warren, Felicia Boswell, Amber Iman, Phillip Attmore, Alexandria Bradley, Darlesia Cearcy, Darius De Haas, C.K. Edwards, Leo Ash Evens, Afra Hines, Curtis Holland, Jason Holley, Adrienne Howard, Lee Howard, Kendrick Jones, Lisa Latouche, Alicia Lundgren, JC Montgomery, Erin N. Moore, Janelle Neal, Brittany Parks, Arbender Robinson, Karissa Royster, Britton Smith, Zurin Villanueva, Christian Dante White, Joseph Wiggan, Pamela Yasutake and Richard Riaz Yoder.
According to production notes, “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.
Photos: Shuffle Along on Broadway
“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.”
With music by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, Shuffle Along premiered in May 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."
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!
Daryl Waters provides music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations. The production features 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 is the musical director.
(Updated July 24, 2016)