Tony Award-winner Gretha Boston, of Show Boat and It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, has joined the company of Let Me Sing: A Musical Evolution, a Broadway aimed co-production between George Street Playhouse and Charlotte Repertory Theatre.
Director and creator Michael Bush, the producing artistic director of Charlotte Rep, told Playbill On Line Boston will play "Ethel," one of a handful of amalgam "types" (as in Ethel Waters) that populate the conceptual revue of the history of musical theatre. The world premiere staging plays Dec. 3-Jan. 4, 2003, at George Street in East Brunswick, NJ, and Jan. 11-Feb. 9, 2003, at Charlotte Rep in North Carolina, with a goal of playing New York City.
Boston took home the Best Featured Actress (Musical) Tony for playing Queenie in the Harold Prince version of Show Boat. She was also Tony-nommed for It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues.
As previously reported by Playbill On-Line, André De Shields (Ain't Misbehavin', The Full Monty) will play "Bill" (akin to Bill Robinson or Bert Williams) and dancer-choreographer Randy Skinner will be "Fred" (a song-and-dance type). Skinner (42nd Street) will also choreograph.
* Let Me Sing takes theatregoers on a historical amble through the American musical theatre, 1900-43. The show is directed and co created by Bush. Casting is ongoing for the remaining characters of Molly (as in Yiddish star Molly Picon), George (as in Cohan or Gershwin) and Irene (as in Dunne). The characters represent archetypes in the development of the musical theatre.
Let Me Sing is created by Michael Bush, Michael Aman and musical director Joel Silberman.
Bush is a onetime instructor at Brooklyn College whose musical theatre lectures explored the idea that musicals prior to Oklahoma! were concerned with the idea of "Who am I as an American?" He suggests there was a shift with Rodgers and Hammerstein's shows, which asked, "Who are we as Americans?" (Bush added the shift back to "I" came with the musicals of Stephen Sondheim.)
Under Bush's direction, a previous workshop of Let Me Sing at Manhattan Theatre Club featured Skinner (playing performers in the style of George M. Cohan, Ray Bolger, Fred Astaire and Clifton Webb), De Shields, Marc Kudisch, Beth Leavel, Boston (as an Ethel Waters type) and Karen Ziemba.
The score of the unique work, which seems to defy definition, includes "Some Who'll Watch Over Me," "You Made Me Love You," "Look for the Silver Lining," "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody," "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and more.
The work is a mini history of how musical theatre kept evolving, Skinner and Bush said, but avoids being academic.
"It has a lot of continuity in it, so it's not a revue," Skinner told Playbill On-Line. "Yet it's not a total book show. The six of us represent, throughout the history of the musical theatre, different famous characters at the time, and what was going on in their personal lives. There was a lot of heartache. People were singing their guts out and dancing their guts out, but behind the scenes there was a lot going on because of the Depression and the times and the politics and the black-white issue."
Bush was going to write a textbook using the thesis of musical theatre as the mirror to cultural identity, but was encouraged to explore it as a stage piece.
"My whole point is that the songs from the American musical theatre defined us as Americans to the rest of the world in a time period when the definition of Americans was cloudy," Bush said.
For more information about Let Me Sing, visit the Charlotte Rep website at charlotterep.org.
— By Kenneth Jones