7 Shows to Enrich Your Black History Month
From Broadway to Brooklyn, several plays and musicals highlighting the Black experience come to the stage in February.
This theater season has witnessed many shows featuring the work of Black artists, writers, and creatives both on Broadway and off, and we're hoping that this is a trend that will become the regular state of things from now on. In honor of Black History Month, we're highlighting some of the new shows in February that feature Black performers and stories, and one time-honored Harlem tradition.
Intimate Apparel, an operatic adaptation of Lynn Nottage's 2003 play, now at Lincoln Center Theater, captures a uniquely significant chapter of Black history in America. Set at the turn of the 20th century, the story follows a seamstress named Esther, a daughter of southern slaves, who tries to navigate love and professional ambition in the newly forming melting pot of New York City. Paired with a beautiful score by Ricky Ian Gordon, the piece subtly mines the confluence of race, gender, and class, and inspires its audiences to question the glaring holes in their history books.
Dave Harris's Tambo & Bones, now in the midst of its world-premiere co-production with Playwrights Horizons and Los Angeles's Center Theatre Group, is tossing gentle reflection out the window, and instead, is opting for the power of a harshly lit mirror. Meant to shock its audiences into a state of revelation, it unveils harsh realities about America's racist past, present, and future, confronting its viewers through the ultimately unsettling lens of a minstrel show. Black narratives and their place in American culture take center stage — and after you leave the theater, you may never see them the same way again.
The greatest pop star in the history of the United States (and arguably, the world) was a skinny Black man who loved Diana Ross, Fred Astaire, and Bob Fosse — and styled himself accordingly. You can celebrate the unique artistry of Michael Jackson and see the best dancing on any Broadway stage in MJ, the Michael Jackson musical. "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Thriller"…they're all there, and they look and sound great.
When thinking about Shakespeare and Black roles, Othello usually jumps to mind. But Theatre for a New Audience is doing something different with The Merchant of Venice, the Bard's play about an ill-fated voyage and a macabre bit of collateral. John Douglas Thompson, who is one of the greatest living classical actors (and who happens to be Black), will take on the role of Shylock, the Jewish money lender, in this new production that examines the intersection of race, class, and religion.
A scientist creates a machine that is able to make Black people white: That is the provocative premise behind the new musical Black No More, based on George S. Schuyler's satirical 1931 Afrofuturist novel. Brandon Victor Dixon stars as Max Disher, a Black man searching for identity in racist America. With music and lyrics by the Roots' Tariq Trotter (Black Thought), music by Anthony Tidd, James Poyser, and Daryl Waters, and book by Oscar winner John Ridley, the New Group's Black No More looks to be one of the most galvanizing, talked-about shows of the season.
Dominique Morisseau's Skeleton Crew takes us back to the beginning of the Great Recession and relates the stories of a group of workers at a Detroit auto plant whose lives are being upended by its threatened closure. Few plays in recent memory conjure the tensions and tender moments of an American "work family" like this play does. Phylicia Rashad leads a stellar Broadway cast in this funny and insightful look at American workers as they struggle under the pressures of a system that looks at them as expendable machines rather than human beings.
7. Amateur Night at the Apollo
It is one of the greatest talent shows on Earth and it takes place right in the heart of Harlem. Amateur Night at the Apollo has been a centerpiece of Black culture in Harlem since 1934, but it's been a minute since the show has been live and in-person. You can witness Amateur Night's triumphant post-pandemic return on February 16 as the stars of tomorrow compete for the $20,000 grand prize.