African-Americans attend theater and purchase tickets on Broadway for a myriad of shows. We are, God bless our collective souls, a curious people and capable of indescribable depths of empathy. The lives of quirky, challenged characters, which are the fabric of great theater, are something—dare I say—we understand instinctively. Toss in good music and we become the backbone of a loyal following that can make or break a project.
Here is a mini-review of recent Broadway shows using my “Harlem Rating” of four $ signs, which equals great:
“Fiddler on the Roof” (three Tony nominations) $$$$
This well-reviewed revived musical comedy (1964) is powerful and honors the ebullience of the human spirit, as embodied by the lead character, Tevye, living in a Russian shtetl in the early 20th century, and played by Danny Burstein, a Broadway veteran and five-time Tony nominee. Burstein is brilliant. Choreographer Hofesh Shechter, nominated for a Tony this year, demonstrated that dance is an essential part of storytelling.
“Eclipsed” (six Tony nominations) $$$$
Danai Gurira wrote this soul-searching and unflinching peek into the lives of women who are caught in the brutal violence of the Liberian civil war. It’s perfect. Under the careful hands of Tony-nominated director Liesl Tommy, a native of South Africa and the first African/African-American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award, it demonstrates that as a storyteller, Tommy is born to her profession.
“The Color Purple” (four Tony nominations) $$$$
Hallelujah seems to be the right word to encompass this stripped-down version of the musical, based on the award-wining novel written by Alice Walker. In a tweet Lin-Manuel Miranda said that he “went to church” after watching a matinee performance. The heart-pounding, gospel-powered musical is making Tony-nominated Cynthia Erivo “one to watch” and giving theater credibility to Danielle Brooks, nominated for a Tony Award in the Featured in a Musical category.
“On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan” (one Tony nomination) $$$
The music of the Estefan empire and the performances of Ana Villafañe (as Gloria Estefan) and Josh Segarra (as Emilio) make this musical a must-see. Under Tony-nominated choreographer Sergio Trujillo, the sizzling dance numbers bring audiences to their feet. The strong ensemble of dancers include Luis Salgado, who also acts as dance captain for this vibrant production.