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Black stars are front and center at Carnegie Hall

Linda Armstrong | 7/10/2014, 3:40 p.m.

Have you ever gone to a theatrical event that had a great deal of promotion, and you couldn’t wait for it to happen? Then, when it happened, it was more glorious than you could have hoped for?

Well, that is what happened to me recently when I had the distinct pleasure of being in Carnegie Hall as history was made. Yes, it was nothing less than history, as a packed theater experienced “The Black Stars of the Great White Way Broadway Reunion and Award Concert.” This superb, one-night-only production celebrated 100 years of the contributions, influence and legacy of African-American men at Carnegie Hall and on Broadway, and the 40th anniversary of “The Wiz.”

It was one of those evenings when, all night long, electricity was in the air. This incredible event came from a concept by Norm Lewis—currently the first Black “Phantom” on Broadway—and producer Chapman Roberts. It was presented by Lewis, Roberts, David Horace Greer, Paula Marie Black and Stephen C. Byrd, in association with the Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art, the Queensborough Performing Arts Center and the California African American Museum. It was entitled, “Live the Dream!” And that is indeed what the audience did that night.

There was a live orchestra and a 100-member chorus of males of various ages. It was beautiful to see this mixing of generations and the talents of these harmonizing voices.

The evening consisted of many amazing moments, including musical tributes to entertainment greats such as Duke Ellington, Luther Henderson, Eubie Blake, Noble Sissle, Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Paul Robeson, Charlie Smalls and Fats Waller.

Honorees for the evening included Broadway producer Stephen Byrd, who is always willing to push the envelope, as he did with his productions of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “A Trip to Bountiful” and “Romeo And Juliet.” Other honorees included Larry Hamlin, who originated the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston Salem, N.C., dancer and actor, Geoffrey Holder, Louis Johnson, Luther Henderson, Donald McKayle, Noble Sissle and Harold Wheeler.

The list of presenters included Phylicia Rashad, Cicely Tyson, Chita Rivera, Ben Vereen and Norm Lewis. This lineup alone lets you know that this evening was one to remember and cherish.

The production was directed and supervised by Chapman Roberts, who was also MC for the evening. Chapman knows everyone in the business and has a great deal of knowledge about the history of Black males on the Great White Way, and he has made it his business to impart his vast knowledge to others.

As the orchestra played numbers such as “Take the A Train,” black-and-white nostalgic photographs of the Cotton Club and other nighttime scenes were displayed on a large screen. That same screen was used to show pictures of the musicians and performers who were being acknowledged.

When there is a tribute to Paul Robeson, who better to come out and sing the songs of this legendary performer than actor Keith David, with his powerful baritone voice? He sang “There’s a Man Going Round Taking Names.” He also gave background on Robeson and the type of person he was. David then sang inspiring and amazing numbers such as “Josiah Fought the Battle of Jericho,” and “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel.”