Whereas 2013 was hailed as a banner year for black films, the same can be said of the 2013-2014 season of Hollywood’s distant east coast cousin: Broadway theater.
Long renowned as the Great White Way, Broadway’s current crop of black theater works is more reflective of a diverse Big Apple as it gets closer to becoming an epicenter for African-American culture and history outside of Harlem – the city’s black Mecca..
Black American heritage is being prominently highlighted in Broadway shows: “Motown, the Musical,” “After Midnight” and “A Raisin in the Sun.”
About to reach its one year mark at the Lunt-Fontaine Theater, “Motown, the Musical” is not only the story of the dominant influence of the Motown sound; its stars and the musical hit makers behind the hot Detroit music factory that became the biggest record production company for Colored artists – it is the tale of founder Berry Gordy’s epic rise in bringing a modest house recording studio into Motown Records. It climbed to history-making status on the national American pop music landscape.
“After Midnight” is the most recent black Broadway musical to open. In homage to the famed Cotton Club, the musical is a nostalgic journey back in time to the era of Harlem’s celebrated nightlife after midnight. It’s playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theater and features a continuum of celeb names, including Fantasia Barrino, who just wrapped up her limited run.
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Next is sultry singing duo Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds and Toni Braxton, newly reunited last year to collaborate on their long-awaited duets album “Love, Marriage and Divorce.” The two are set to join the cast for an exclusive two-week performance. They will be followed by Vanessa Williams as the featured guest singer.
And four years after the last revival and six decades since it first premiered on Broadway, the acclaimed drama “A Raisin in the Sun” is also being revived for a limited engagement on the Broadway stage of the Ethel Barrymore Theater.
With the heritage of 1960s R&B music, the heyday of Harlem’s after hours nightclubs and the Tony Award-winning over half a century old dramatic production about 1950s racial bigotry and how it affects one black Chicago family being presented simultaneously on Broadway, it’s also a banner year for African-American cultural expanse in the modern age of theater.
The smash hit “Memphis” that ran on Broadway featured a large black cast and highlighted the soulful sounds of rock ‘n’ roll, blues and gospel in “underground nightclubs of 1950s Memphis, TN.”
“All the Way” is a politically based drama playing at the Neil Simon Theater, which centers on Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency and his historical signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. It showcases several African-American actors in central roles portraying key figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and several others.
It is a cause célèbre beyond the annual 28-day observance of black history during the month of February.