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Shuffle Along
Music Eubie Blake
Lyrics Noble Sissle
Book F. E. Miller
Aubrey Lyles
Productions 1921 Broadway
1933 Broadway revival
1952 Broadway revival

Shuffle Along is the first major successful African American musical.[1] Written by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, with music and lyrics by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, the musical premiered on Broadway in 1921.

Contents

Plot

The plot centers on the characters Sam and Steve who run for mayor in Jimtown, USA. If either one wins, he will appoint the other his chief of police. Sam wins with the help of a crooked campaign manager. Sam keeps his promise to appoint Steve as chief of police, but they begin to disagree on petty matters. They resolve their differences in a rousing, humorous 20-minute fight scene. As they fight, their opponent for the mayoral position, Harry Walton, vows to end their corrupt regime, underscored in the song ā€œIā€™m Just Wild about Harry.ā€ Harry wins the next election as well as the girl and runs Sam and Steve out of town.

As the show closed, one character explains that the lighter the skin, the more desirable an African American woman was.

Songs

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Act I
  • I'm Simply Full of Jazz - Ruth Little and Syncopation Steppers
  • Love Will Find a Way - Jessie Williams and Harry Walton
  • Bandana Days - Alderman and Company
  • Sing Me to Sleep, Dear Mammy - Harry Walton and Board of Aldermen
  • (In) Honeysuckle Time (When Emmaline Said She'd Be Mine) - Tom Sharper
  • Gypsy Blues - Jessie Williams, Ruth Little and Harry Walton
Act II
  • Shuffle Along - Jimtown Pedestrians and Traffic Cop
  • I'm Just Wild About Harry - Jessie Williams and Jimtown Sunflowers
  • Syncopation Stenos - Mayor's Staff
  • Good Night Angeline - Board of Aldermen
  • If You Haven't Been Vamped by a Brownskin, You Haven't Been Vamped at All - Steve Jenkins, Sam Peck and Jimtown Vamps
  • Uncle Tom and Old Black Joe - Uncle Tom and Old Black Joe
  • Everything Reminds Me of You - Jessie Williams and Harry Walton
  • Oriental Blues - Tom Sharper and Oriental Girls
  • I Am Craving for That Kind of Love/ Daddy (Won't You Please Come Home) - Ruth Little
  • Baltimore Buzz - Tom Sharper and Jimtown's Jazz Steppers
  • African Dip - Steve Jenkins and Sam Peck

Productions

The musical premiered on Broadway at the 63rd Street Music Hall on May 23, 1921 and closed on July 15, 1922 after 484 performances. It was directed by Walter Brooks, with Eubie Blake playing the piano. The cast included Lottie Gee as Jessie Williams, Adelaide Hall as Jazz Jasmine, Gertrude Saunders as Ruth Little, Roger Matthews as Harry Walton, and Noble Sissle as Tom Sharper. Gertrude Saunders was replaced by Florence Mills. Josephine Baker, who was deemed too young at age 15 to be in the show, joined the touring company in Boston, and then joined the Broadway cast when she turned 16.[2] Bessie Allison's first professional performance was in Shuffle Along. [3] [4]

Other productions
  • Road versions toured successfully throughout the country up to 1924.
  • The show was revived at the Mansfield Theatre, New York City, from December 26, 1932 to January 7, 1933, closing after seventeen performances.
  • In 1933 Blake, Sissle, Miller, and Lyles reunited but the production was not met with critical success.
  • A 1952 revival, starring Sissle and Blake and choreographed by Henry LeTang, was also unsuccessful. It opened at the Broadway Theatre on May 8, 1952 and closed after 4 performances.

Historical effect and response

According to the Harlem chronicler James Weldon Johnson, the 1921 musical revue Shuffle Along marked a breakthrough for the African-American musical performer and made musical theatre history. This revue legitimized the African-American musical, proving to producers and managers that audiences would pay to see African-American talent on Broadway.

The musical brought black actors back to Broadway after a 10-year absence during a time when the prominent black actors and producers of the day had retired and/or died. Shuffle Along also brought black audiences to the orchestra rather than being relegated to the balcony, and featured the first sophisticated African-American love story. Moreover, Shuffle Along laid the foundation for public acceptance of African-American performers in other than burlesque roles.

The impact of Shuffle Along rippled through Broadway, with nine African-American musicals opening between 1921 and 1924. For the next few years, black theatre would pioneer several "firsts." In 1928, the first edition of Lew Leslie's Blackbirds featured Bill "Bojangles" Robinson as the first black dance star on Broadway. In 1929, Harlem, a drama by Wallace Thurman and William Rapp, introduced the Slow Drag, the first African-American social dance to reach Broadway.

As scholar James Haskins noted, Shuffle Along "started a whole new era for blacks on Broadway, as well as a whole new era for blacks in all creative fields." Loften Mitchell, author of Black Drama: The Story of the American Negro in the Theatre, credits Shuffle Along with launching the Harlem Renaissance.

According to theatre historian and teacher John Kenrick, "Judged by contemporary standards, much of Shuffle Along would seem offensive...most of the comedy relied on old minstrel show stereotypes. Each of the leading male characters was out to swindle the other."[5]

President Harry Truman chose the Shuffle Along song "I'm Just Wild About Harry" for his campaign anthem.

References

  1. ^ Haskins, James (2002). Black Stars of the Harlem Renaissance. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0471211524, p. 31
  2. ^ Hill, Errol (1987). The Theater of Black Americans. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0936839279, p. 132
  3. ^ Sutton, Allan (August 29, 2007). "Black Swan's Other Stars". Articles. Wilmington, Delaware: Mainspring Press. http://www.mainspringpress.com/blkswan.htm. Retrieved 8 March 2010. 
  4. ^ Jessie Carney Smith, ed (1996). Notable Black American Women. 2. Detroit Michigan: Gale Research Inc. pp. 73ā€“75. ISBN 0810391775. http://books.google.com/books?id=ssMBzqrUpjwC&pg=PA74&dq=Bessie+A.+Buchanan&cd=11#v=onepage&q=Bessie%20A.%20Buchanan&f=false. Retrieved 8 March 2010. 
  5. ^ Kenrick, John."History of The Musical Stage, 1920s Part III:Black Musicals",musicals101.com, accessed August 22, 2009

External links

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