Dictionary of the Black Theatre: Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Selected Harlem Theatre

Dictionary of the Black Theatre: Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Selected Harlem Theatre

Dictionary of the Black Theatre: Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Selected Harlem Theatre

Dictionary of the Black Theatre: Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Selected Harlem Theatre

Synopsis

Documentation for approximately three hundred shows is provided in this unique reference book. The title of each show is followed by its theatre, opening date, number of performances, complete list of creative personnel, cast credits, and, where appropriate, a list of the show's songs. Biographical entries are also included.

Excerpt

Broadway's first introduction to the black theatre came with two musicals in 1898. A Trip to Coontown byBob Cole and Billy Johnson and Clorindy, the Origin of the Cakewalk byWill Marion Cook and Paul Laurence Dunbar set the tone for black theatrical performances for the first decade of this century. These musical comedies marked a slight advance over the minstrel shows of an earlier age. While they retained several of the stereo- typed notions of black behavior from the minstrel stage, they also began to widen the spectrum of black entertainment. Although accepted cautiously at first, the black musical soon became a Broadway staple. With such presentations as In Dahomey (1903), Abyssinia (1906), The Oyster Man, The Shoo-Fly Regiment (1907), and The Red Moon (1909), Broadway audiences were introduced to the top black performers of the age: Bob Cole, Bert Williams, George Walker, J. Rosamond Johnson, and Ernest Hogan.

The growing popularity of these black musical productions was halted abruptly by 1910, as death and illness stalked the major talents of these shows. With the deaths of Cole, Walker, and Hogan, the black theatre experienced a major setback. Only Bert Williams remained, but he accepted a Flo Ziegfeld offer to join the ever popular Follies as a headliner. Thus, the black theatre remained without its major innovators and organizers as the second decade of the century began.

James Weldon Johnson, a noted lyricist for several early black musicals, called this period "the term of exile" in his classic study of black culture in New York City, Black Manhattan (1930). Exile might be too strong a word. Although black theatre virtually vanished from Broadway from 1910 to 1917, it flourished in Harlem with such groups as the Lafayette Players. Here black performers were no longer limited to musical shows (although they remained popular), as they experimented with serious dramas and classic revivals. the budding Harlem theatre gave blacks a greater latitude in performing roles than had been allowed in the earlier decade. Ironically, Broadway audiences began to travel to Harlem to enjoy a form of theatre that was no longer available on the Great White Way. Even Flo Ziegfeld purchased segments of Harlem revues for inclusion in his Follies productions.

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