The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage, 1940-1950

By Samuel L. Leiter | Go to book overview
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BAL NEGRE [Revue/Blacks] D/CH: Katherine Dunham; P: Nelson L. Gross and Daniel Melnick; T: Belasco Theatre; 11/7/46 (52)

Top black choreographer and dancer Katherine Dunham and a company of fifty musicians and dancers offered this three-act show as a Broadway revue, but it was actually an evening of dance with little else for variety. Even the mostly "exotic" tropical folk dances lacked variety, thought Louis Kronenberger ( PM), who appreciated the "spirit" and "picturesqueness" with which they were performed but considered the show "more Kitsch than art."

A good many of the pieces on the program were from earlier Dunham recitals. There were Brazilian numbers, Haitian ones, West Indian ones, American black ones, European ones, and even one in ragtime called "Nostalgia," played in a roaring twenties setting and demonstrating the bunny hug, the turkey trot, the Charleston, and other period ballroom dances. The latter proved to be more popular with audiences than the program's artier selections. Some of the other routines were the Latin-rhythmed "Motivos," the ritualistic "Shango," and "L'Ag'ya," a spectacular dance-drama by Dunham and set in Martinique.

"They are individually of a visual hypnosis," suggested George Jean Nathan ( TBY), "but, when repeated over a two hour period . . . inclined to suffer from monotony." But Robert Coleman ( NYDM) spoke up for those who enjoyed this "evening of torrid, high-spirited dancing and singing."

Top dancers in the show included Lenwood Morris, Lucille Ellis, Lawaune Ingram, Wilbert Bradley, and Vanoye Aikens. Singers in the show included Rosalie King, Jean Leon Destine, and future star Eartha Kitt.

BALLET BALLADS [Musical/One-Acts] B/LY: John Latouche; M: Jerome Moross; D: Mary Hunter; DS: Nat Karson; P: Experimental Theatre, Inc.; T: Maxine Elliott's Theatre; 5/9/48 (69) "Susanna and the Elders"[Bible/Religion/Sex] CH: Katherine Litz; "Willie the Weeper" [Drugs/Fantasy] CH: Paul Godkin; "The Eccentricities of Davy Crockett" [Fantasy/Period/Rural] CH: Hanya Holm

The final offering of the Experimental Theatre s 1947-1948 season was this unusual three-part program consisting of dance-dramas accompanied by songs performed to a two-piano accompaniment by soloists and a large chorus under Hugh Ross's direction. A number of well-known dancers appeared, chief among them being Sono Osato, who played Cocaine Lil in "Willie the Weeper." After finishing its six subscription performances, which received only tepid notices, the show moved immediately to the Music Box Theatre for a commercial run.

"Susanna and the Elders" is set at a revival meeting where the apocryphal tale of the title characters is told in a sermon and enacted. Choreographer Litz danced


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The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage, 1940-1950


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