Chapman Roberts, the executive director and producer of “Black Stars of the Great White Way,” is very excited these days, as he prepares to bring this unique, marvelous production down to the National Black Theatre Festival, happening Aug. 3 to 8 in Winston-Salem, N.C., as the main stage production, which is an enormous honor. Roberts recently took the time to speak with the AmNews about the production, its previous performance at Carnegie Hall and its upcoming performances at the NBTF, one of the largest reunions of Black theater performers and patrons, occurring every two years in North Carolina.
AmNews: How would you describe “Black Stars of the Great White Way”?
Roberts: “The Black Stars of The Great White Way: A Chapman Roberts Concept” is a concert celebration of the legacy, influence and contributions of African-American men to Broadway and the Carnegie Hall 100-year history and the vision of Broadway star Norm Lewis. It includes tributes to Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Noble Sissle, who are the only composer-performers in the history of the world to achieve equal success in the film, TV, jukebox, recording, Broadway, night club and concert hall industries. The performances on Aug. 3 and 4 at the National Black Theatre Festival 2015 will be the first anniversary celebration of “The Black Stars” triumphant Carnegie Hall debut on June 23, 2014, which honored Geoffrey Holder, Louis Johnson, Robert Guillaume, Noble Sissle, Luther Henderson, Donald McKayle, and was hosted by Ben Vereen, Phylicia Rashad, Chita Rivera, Norm Lewis, George Faison, Larry Hamlin, Harold Wheeler, Stephen Byrd and Cicely Tyson.
Who will perform?
This National Black Theatre Festival “Black Stars of the Great White Way” anniversary concert will star Melba Moore, Jackee Harry, Harold Wheeler, Hattie Winston, Obba Babatunde, Maurice Hines, Alyson Williams, Norm Lewis, Andre DeShields, Larry Marshall, Peggi Blu, Longineu Parsons, Jeffrey Anderson- Gunter, Kirk Taylor, Jacob Wheeler, Dawnn Lewis and Jermaine Coles.
Which Broadway shows will they represent?
They will sing songs from “Eubie,” “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables,” “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” “The Wiz” and the film “Selma.”
When you performed last year at Carnegie Hall, there was a male choir of 100 voices of people mixed ages and backgrounds. Will they be coming to Winston-Salem, N.C.?
A local Winston-Salem choir will also be performing with us.
Which tap dancers will be there to perform?
We are pleased that Maurice Hines, who is the dean of Broadway tap performers, will be joining us.
Why is it important that a production like this be the main stage play at this year’s NBTF?
This event at the National Black Theatre Festival will be the first performance since Carnegie Hall of “The Black Stars of the Great White Way,” which is the only extant history of African-American musical theater anywhere in the world. It is a living African-American musical theater hall of fame representing over 100 years of America’s musical theater history. Any performance of “The Black Stars of the Great White” is vital to the preservation of that history and the embodiment of the inspired vision of Norm Lewis.
What are the next plans for “Black Stars of the Great White Way”?
Norm Lewis and Audra Macdonald and I will be participating in the Classical Pops Festival with members of the Metropolitan and New York Philharmonic orchestras in Barbados in December. Soon thereafter there will be events at the Havana Jazz Festival. Cast members of “The Black Stars of the Great White Way” will continue to perform individually and collectively all over the world for generations still to come.
I had the pleasure of experiencing this production when it was performed at Carnegie Hall, and it was an evening forever engrained in my memory. Go to Winston-Salem and make this memory—go see “Blacks Stars of the Great White Way” at the NBTF. I can’t wait!