6 Landmark Productions by Black Theater Artists to Revive on Broadway When It Reopens
From James Baldwin to Lorraine Hansberry, here are the plays and musicals we'd like to see get their due in New York City.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of Black History Month being declared a national observance in the United States. Though the theaters are still closed, we wanted to put in our votes for several shows that we've wanted to see on Broadway for a long time — some have run there before and others are still awaiting their premieres. From James Baldwin's The Amen Corner to Alice Childress's Trouble in Mind, these are just a handful of works by Black artists that we want to see Broadway explore and celebrate when theaters open again.
1. Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Book by George C. Wolfe, music by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, original book by F.E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles
Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed was almost too good to be true. Inspired by the history of Eubie Blake, Noble Sissle, F.E. Miller, and Aubrey Lyles's Shuffle Along, one of the first musicals to be produced, written, and performed entirely by African-Americans, this 2016 musical featured a book and visionary direction by George C. Wolfe, astonishing choreography by Savion Glover, and an incredible cast led by Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Joshua Henry, Brandon Victor Dixon, and Adrienne Warren. Looking at success and its aftermath, Wolfe's Shuffle Along played an all-too-brief run at the Music Box Theatre in 2016. It deserves a revival. It was just too good.
2. The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window
By Lorraine Hansberry
If you know Lorraine Hansberry, chances are it's because of A Raisin in the Sun — Hansberry's first play, and the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. It was revived in 2004 (starring Sean Combs), and then again in 2014 (starring Denzel Washington), joining its 1961 film adaptation, its 1973 Broadway musical (titled Raisin), and its 1989 TV film in the jam-packed Raisin in the Sun catalogue. And yet, Broadway hasn't seen Hansberry's second and final play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, since 1972 (a revival that followed its original 1964 production). The play touches on racial issues, but was ahead of its time in additionally tackling suicide, homosexuality, and women's equality. Perhaps now is the perfect time to give Walter Lee a break, and pay a long overdue visit to Hansberry's lesser-known work.
3. The Amen Corner
By James Baldwin
James Baldwin is best known for novels and essay collections such as Go Tell It on the Mountain and Notes of a Native Son. But about the same time that those early works came out, he published his first play, The Amen Corner, in 1954. The story revolves around a Harlem storefront church, its pastor, Sister Margaret, and the fraught relationship that she has with the church leaders, her Black congregation, and her family. The play had a brief run on Broadway in 1965, and it now seems long overdue for a revival. As Baldwin's prescient novels are being rediscovered by a new generation, it is time to revisit his theatrical works as well.
4. Day of Absence
By Douglas Turner Ward
In Douglas Turner Ward's 1965 play, all the Black people in an imaginary Southern town have disappeared, leaving the white residents to figure out how to fend for themselves. A startling and uncomfortable social satire, Ward's Day of Absence was ahead of its time, and the time to revive it is now.
By Amiri Baraka
Dutchman — the first play by Amiri Baraka, born LeRoi Jones — may have been written in 1964, but it has lost none of its power to shock. If anything, the Obie Award-winning play's depiction of a confrontation between a femme fatale white woman and an emasculated Black man on a New York City subway plays even more provocatively today as race and gender relations have become more fraught in our current sociopolitical moment. Dulé Hill and Jennifer Mudge, stars of the 2007 off-Broadway revival of the piece, proved this last summer, when they did an incredible virtual reading via Play-PerView.
6. Trouble in Mind
By Alice Childress
OK, this is a ringer, because Roundabout Theatre Company has announced the long-awaited Broadway debut of this drama, which premiered off-Broadway in 1955. Childress's work is set backstage at a theater, where a group of Black actors deal with a condescending white director as they rehearse a fictional anti-lynching drama. Charles Randolph-Wright will direct the upcoming production, which is planned for the American Airlines Theatre whenever venues reopen.