When I heard that there was a book written about African-Americans on Broadway, I was excited, but I never anticipated how gorgeous this book would be. “Black Broadway: African-Americans on the Great White Way” is full of the history of Black performers on Broadway, with some of the most stunning photos of these performers that you will have the pleasure of viewing.
When I opened the book, my 12-year-old daughter—who is an acting major—and I could not put it down. Published by Square One Publishers, the book is filled with so much incredible theater history and captivating pictures. The book is written by Stewart Lane, an author and six-time Tony Award winning producer.
Lane looks at Blacks on stage in minstrel shows and vaudeville, during the Jazz Age and the Civil Rights Movement and on Broadway. He doesn’t miss one classic Black actor and notes so many people that you know you are getting a theater education. There are glorious photos of Ethel Waters, Pearl Bailey, Bert Williams, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Leslie Uggams, Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones and so many more.
There’s a cast shot of Tyson, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Vanessa Williams from “The Trip to Bountiful,” and one of the cast of “Purlie Victorious,” which, of course, starred Melba Moore.
When it comes to Blacks on Broadway, we have done much more than act on stage. This book also recognizes Black playwrights, songwriters, directors, choreographers and designers.
Lane begins the book beautifully with a powerful foreword by Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon. Leon’s words are inspirational. You can tell that he appreciates all the work that Lane put into creating this marvelous, incredible book.
This book is a must-have in every Black family’s library, whether you are into Black theater or not. It is a tribute to the talent of our people.
There are so many Broadway productions featured in this riveting book. It is so moving to look at pictures of the people who are treasures of Black theater, seeing them when they were young, beautiful and at the top of their games. (Of course, Jones is still on Broadway and currently starring at the Longacre Theater on 48th Street in a comedy called “You Can’t Take It With You.”)
It is mind-blowing when you realize all the creativity that has come from the African-American community. Who cannot be impressed when you think of the brilliance of August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry or Ossie Davis? People who create theater, whether they are the playwrights, actors or designers, should hold a special place in our hearts, because they give audiences the ability to escape their realities and engage in the world, time and place that they have created.
I love Black theater, and I love what our Black people have done over the years on Broadway. Our people are often trendsetters and pacemakers. Think about musicals such as “Bring in ’da Noise Bring in ’da Funk,” “The Wiz,” “Porgy and Bess” and “Dreamgirls.” These shows are timeless.
Lane gives the public a look at Blacks in theater and on the Great White Way that you will never want to forget, and that you should pass on and share with the younger generation. If you are teaching a theater class, this book would be an invaluable resource to share with your class: If they see who has come before, it could inspire them to persevere in this business, which can be very difficult.
I love the fact that Lane gives a road map of the course of Blacks in theater and on Broadway. People need to know that we have been doing this a long time.
It took Lane three years to complete the book. “It took a year for the first draft, a year for the rights to all the photographs from places like the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Billy Rose Theater Division: The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the Lincoln Center Library, and then it took time to do the timeline on the bottom of the pages,” Lane explained.
In the book, Lane got famous Black actors to speak with him about their stories. When asked how this came about, he stated, “Actors are generous with their time. On this case I got to work with Leslie Uggams in a couple of shows like ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie,’ and James Earl Jones I got to talk to in ‘The Best Man.’ Kenny Leon directed ‘Holler If Ya Hear Me,’ and I met him through that.”
One of the most outstanding aspects of this book is its photos and illustrations. Lane explained their importance and credited his publisher for sharing his vision. “The publisher shared my vision with the photographs and illustrations. Theater is physical. The more pictures you have, the more you can relate to it. … I want you to get a strong sense of not only American history, but to celebrate the theater. If you think of who we were as a nation, how far we have come, you see it reflected in the theater. You can say, ‘Look how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.’”
“Black Broadway: African-Americans on the Great White Way” is on sale at Barnes & Noble at 150 E. 86th St., where Lane just held a book signing and discussion. He was joined by Uggams. The book can also be purchased online at www.barnesandnoble.com or www.amazon.com for $39.95.