“Shuffle Along” a charming, hokey, jazzy, hot dance show with sparkling Audra McDonald

By Lucy Komisar

It‘s charming but also hokey: the story of black producers and performers struggling in the early twenties to put a show on Broadway. It‘s 1920 and they are Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, a comedy duo who meet at Fisk, the black college in Nashville.

Audra McDonald as Lotte Gee, photo Julieta Cervantes.

They move on the King Albee circuit, playing houses for black audiences. And the play by George C. Wolfe, who also directed, incorporates the original show into a show about how it got put on. And what happened along the way. This is segregated America.

It‘s full of jazz and syncopation and flapper wiggles and shimmies. And Audra McDonald‘s jazzy singing and tap dancing. I loved her gospel “Aint it a shame to give up a Sunday.” She has a thrilling operatic soprano.

Mixed in is the affair between singer Lotte Gee (McDonald) and Blake (Brandon Victor Dixon). She tells him you are married and you‘re a musician. I don‘t need this. But, as she notes ruefully, “Smart woman surrender to lesser men.”

Adrienne Warren as Gertrude Saunders and the company doing “I‘m Just Wild About Harry,” photo Julieta Cervantes.

After touring, the show opened at the 63rd Street Music Hall off Broadway and ran for 504 performances. Among those in the company were Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson. The group broke up over legal conflicts tied to greed, not unheard of in the business. Or any business.

The pastiche of song and dance numbers is appealing, including Lt Jim Europe, the Army‘s first jazz marching band singer and swing a capella gospel. The choreography by Savion Glover is jazzy and hot. Glover is America‘s best tap choreographer. And the show gave us “I‘m just wild about Harry.” There’s a lot to be wild about in the show, though as a story, the shifting parts don‘t quite make a whole.

Shuffle Along.” Original book by F. (Flournoy) E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles, book by George C. Wolfe, music & lyrics by Noble Sissle & Eubie Blake, directed by George C. Wolfe, choreographed by Savion Glover. Music Box Theatre, 239 W 45th St, New York City. 212-239-6200. Opened April 28, 2016, closes July 24, 2016. 7/9/16.

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