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Review Roundup: SHUFFLE ALONG Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

Review Roundup: SHUFFLE ALONG Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

A re-imagined version of the 1921 musical SHUFFLE ALONG one of the earliest stage hits starring, written and directed by African-Americans, opens tonight, April 28, at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway.

SHUFFLE ALONG has a new book and is directed by George C. Wolfe, choreographed by Savion Glover, and stars six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, Tony Award winners Brian Stokes Mitchell and Billy Porter, and Tony Award nominees Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry, heading a cast of 34.

In May 1921, the new musical SHUFFLE ALONG became the unlikeliest of hits, significantly altering the face of the Broadway musical. New York City was still in the throes of the Depression of 1920. And despite being celebrated vaudeville performers, Miller and Lyles and Sissle and Blake had never performed on Broadway, much less written a musical. But with an infectious jazz score and exuberant dancing, SHUFFLE ALONG ignited not just Broadway but all of New York City. Because of SHUFFLE ALONG, Uptown and Downtown met and became one.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: So just what is it, this tart and sweet, bubbly and flat, intoxicating and sobering concoction being dispensed from the stage of theMusic Box Theater?...As staged by Mr. Wolfe and Mr. Glover...routines first performed nearly a century ago come across as defiantly fresh...Often you sense that Mr. Wolfe has a checklist of historic points he must, but must, cover before the show's end...The clunky, shoehorned-in exposition doesn't overwhelm the sweeping grace of "Shuffle Along" whenever it sings or dances...The show's principals...all more or less manage to bend their distinctive charismas into the sinuous contours of early Broadway jazz. But Ms. McDonald is a one-woman time machine de luxe, who translates the precise stylistic quirks of a bygone era into a melting immediacy. She also provides the most fully fleshed character in the show.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: "Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed" is, like its title suggests, a genre-jumping show, something not comfortable in one box. It's not a review or revival. It's more like a history lesson that will blow you away. Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry star in the show, all dancing to Savion Glover's choreography. Each of these men is worthy of having their own show. Putting them together is insane. Oh, and Audra McDonald just happens to be in it, too...There is a bit of bloat, too much exposition and with five stars who each need a backstory, the plot sometimes slows, but Wolfe nicely captures the timeless craziness of creation and the glory days of a special show.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: ...the project's strengths far outweigh its flaws. The cast is magnificent. It goes without saying at this point that there's nothing the superhuman McDonald can't do onstage, but rarely do we get to see her cut loose in exuberant comedic mode to the extent she does here...Even beyond her numbers, McDonald kills it with her timing -- every word, look or gesture smacks its target...The four male leads are equally consummate stage artists who go a long way toward finding depth in their underdeveloped characters...even if the structural limitations of Wolfe's undertaking are unable to support the scope of his noble intentions, it's a genuine thrill to watch this outrageously talented cast herald the achievements of a team that brought innovative black artistry to mainstream American theater.

David Cote, Time Out NY: The first half is sensational; the second is difficult, in terms of our heroes' postsuccess fates and how engagingly their narratives play out. But with a cast this incandescent (I haven't even mentioned Audra McDonald's tender, guarded brilliance as diva Lottie Gee) and Wolfe staging a constant flow of miracles, there's an overflow of joy and style that smooths over stylistic rough edges and knotty stitching of history to myth...Above all, we can luxuriate in a breathtaking piece of showmanship, featuring more talent crowding a stage than pretty much any other Broadway show at present (and yes, that includes Hamilton)...Oh, and there's dance-miles and miles of ecstatic, syncopated genius courtesy of Savion Glover.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Theater legend George C. Wolfe aims to right a historical wrong with "Shuffle Along," a new musical -- and it sure feels new, despite what a key producer is arguing -- about the making of an often-overlooked show...Audra McDonald, groundbreaking in her own right, plays Lottie Gee, who was considered the first black ingenue featured in a Broadway musical. Lottie is lusty, busty and trusty..."Shuffle Along" is stylized to evoke an era and focus on big scenes, which can become burdened with exposition..."Shuffle Along" is moving, in fits and starts, as a story about artists who risk their critical and financial fortunes, sculpting a musical from their most raw emotional expressions and their sophisticated artistic heritage, instead of toning down that spirit for mass consumption.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: The first half of George C. Wolfe's "Shuffle Along" is to 2016 what "Hamilton" was to 2015: It's the musical you've got to see, even if you've got to hock your Maserati to pay for the ticket. The cast, led by Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Billy Porter, is as charismatic as you'd expect, and Savion Glover's near-nonstop choreography explodes off the stage with the unrelenting impact of a flamethrower. But then comes intermission, and what had looked like a masterpiece goes flat and stays that way.

Linda Winer, Newsday: Like its mouthful of a title, "Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed," is not a conventional show...The result is a bold and wistful, playful and important musical-about-a-musical. It is overstuffed with ambition and talent, sure, but why shouldn't it be? There is so much to tell and as much to soak in and enjoy, thanks to a thrilling A-list cast...Indeed, there is a lot of exposition, a few too many back stories and, every so often, the narrative inertia of an illustrated history. But what illustrations these are -- choreographed for the terrific dancing chorus by Savion Glover with both a combination of the dazzling, syncopated black-tapping tradition and his own special full-footed, stomping identity.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: In this season of Hamilton, it's been a tall order for any new Broadway production to rise to the level of an event. But Shuffle Along... (* * * ½ out of four) qualifies, and not just for the length of its title...The names recruited to appear in this new Shuffle Along...are equally impressive...The stars, all excellent, provide portraits that are at once recognizably human and lavishly entertaining, from Porter's wry, aspirational Aubrey to Henry's imperious but thin-skinned Noble. McDonald and Dixon have a charming, ultimately bittersweet chemistry relaying the sparks that flew between Shuffle Along's star and its married composer. The new Shuffle Along also benefits, greatly, from the exuberant gifts of choreographer Savion Glover.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: The new Broadway musical "Shuffle Along" dazzles like no other show this season -- but it also disappoints...When the cast is singing and tearing up the floor with choreographer Savion Glover's muscular and thrilling tap-dancing it's pure unmitigated heaven. But between numbers, biographies are sketched out and behind-the-scenes blow-by-blows are shared. The narration turns entertainment into dull lecture hall...Mitchell, Porter, Dixon and Henry are terrific. But the ace in the hole -- and in tap shoes -- in this enterprise is Audra McDonald. The six-time Tony winner delivers her patented magic in the role of Lottie Gee, a Jazz Era star with a silver voice and acid tongue. McDonald is funnier, friskier and more light-footed than ever...Even though the narration lacks drama, the tap-happy new show gleams with ambition and topnotch talent.

Jesse Green, Vulture: This review might have begun "Audra Smiles!" -- so unusual and uplifting is it to see our leading vocal tragedienne in a part that (until Act Two) is essentially as light as a soubrette's. McDonald sings beautifully, of course; the role sits mostly in the thrilling upper part of her range. But you may not have remembered...what she can do with comic phrasing...As if that weren't enough, she taps (as everyone else does) with a nearly reckless vigor, despite the impossibly subdivided counts of Glover's syncopations. By the time she brings Act One to a rousing climax with the huge success of the show-within-a-show, you may feel that the outer show too is one of the best old-fashioned entertainments -- tunes, dances, comedy, costumes, the whole hotcha package -- to hit Broadway in years.

Matt Windman, amNY: Whether old or new, it is a hot mess of the highest caliber - a dazzling and dizzying documentary mixed with star turns, syncopated rhythms, stylish attire, fierce tap-dancing and weak subplots...For nearly three hours, "Shuffle Along" throws at its audience nonstop sound and fury and historical detail. It's like climbing aboard a rocket that doesn't stop spinning...But the storytelling is chaotic and choppy, and the characters are painted in broad strokes. The second act, set after the show has become an overnight sensation, comes off as superfluous...McDonald plays it up as an over-the-top diva, while Stokes once again proves himself to be an outstanding leading man...It should come as no surprise that something so experimental and ambitious needs more development.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Shuffle Along...is an angry musical, its solid outrage sublimating not into bitterness or brutality but instead into a kind of suffusing sorrow over the cultural loss that is as fundamental to the legacy of racism as its more violent aspects...The more serious problem is that an idea is not a focal point, and so Shuffle Along...never resolves into a story. Instead, it's a series of historical scenes that tell, rather than show, and that's deadly for a musical. It's unquestionably entertaining to watch the five principal actors here at work, none less than consummate (though, brilliant as she is, McDonald has long since aged out of ingenue roles)...And yet Shuffle Along...struck me as both rough and unfinished.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: Wolfe is both director and book writer, and what a story he delivers! He turns every "42nd Street" cliché on its head to celebrate these artists' tremendous achievement against impossible odds in racist America...There's a lot of history to tell here, and Wolfe doesn't skimp...Four -- count 'em, four -- leading men in one musical! It's a very didactic approach, but whenever their words threaten to turn into a Wikipedia entry, Wolfe the writer hands the reins to his better half: Wolfe the director, with an assist from Savion Glover the choreographer. Both have no equal on Broadway this season. In a year of pandering, corn-pone musicals, "Shuffle Along" exudes elegance and intelligence at every turn. While it's big in its ambitions, theatrical thrills, and the emotions it stirs, Wolfe achieves much in very small ways.

Caitlin Brody, Entertainment Weekly: Shuffle Along...is a refreshing burst of energy, no caffeine necessary...the jazzy musical boasts so much star power, at times it seems unfair to the rest of the Broadway circuit...Enter McDonald as actress Lottie Gee, the Kentucky-bred, headstrong feminist whose dreams of stardom outweigh all four of the show's collaborators combined...There's a reason McDonald has six Tonys and counting: Her honey-like voice captivates, whether she's singing bebop or intentionally trying to outshine an ingenue...Glover's rhythmic tap is the true pulse of Shuffle Along...Clocking in at just shy of three hours, Shuffle Along never feels long -- it's a dazzling production that celebrates art, dreams, and equality. A-

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: It is no mean feat to revive an archaic but seminal Broadway musical...and create an entertainment that not only celebrates the classic song-and-dance material but ennobles it further by showcasing the royal talents of Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry, thus vaulting it to new heights. But it is a yet-greater achievement to simultaneously offer what is essentially a lesson in theatrical and racial history..."Shuffle Along," the final new Broadway musical of the 2015-16 season has achieved all of this. There has been debate about whether this is a musical revival or a new musical. Self-evidently, it is both. It should really be in a Tony category of its own.

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: A Broadway history lesson is being delivered these days at the Music Box Theatre, and never has anything this educational been so sensationally staged. All credit to Professor George C. Wolfe, holder of a PhD in theatrical pizazz, for adapting and directing this homage to "Shuffle Along"...Wolfe has assembled an African American dream team of theatrical talent, led by six-time Tony-winner Audra McDonald, to channel the pluck, perseverance and panache of artists who might be forgotten by Broadway but only after they changed it for good. Just when you think McDonald can't impress us anymore than she already has, she blows you away with a tap dancing prowess that must have left even choreographer Savion Glover in awe.

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: Audience education is certainly on director George C. Wolfe's agenda in his eagerly anticipated, luxuriously re-upholstered revival of the early 1920s musical "Shuffle Along." In fact, the goals of correcting the record so vie for primacy with the values of first-class entertainment in this vibrant, didactic, at times breathtaking and other times slightly condescending enterprise that you sense a war still raging, over what exactly the show is striving to be...Were it not for the array of buoyant talent assembled here..."Shuffle Along" might feel too unresolved and heavy-handed to stay afloat. But in concert with Glover, who marshals a cadre of tap dancers for an exhilarating series of numbers...Wolfe offers up the kind of sensational musical interludes that recall the pizzazz and bite of his 1996 Broadway hit, "Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk."

Christopher Kelly, NJ.com: This proudly flashy, impressively ambitious show is the very last production to open in the 2015-16 Broadway season. Talk about finishing on a high note...The first act is a particularly fluid dramatization and distillation of a tremendous amount of historical information, presented through a series of razzle-dazzle, tap-heavy production numbers. As might be expected with a show trying to do so much, "Shuffle Along" sometimes bites off more than it can chew. There are six major characters here...and keeping track of their assorted backstories and rivalries proves daunting. After the rousing first act, the second act seems to meander...And while Wolfe does a fine job conveying the social and cultural complexities of a work like "Shuffle Along"...some of the essence of the source material is lost...But what a dream team Wolfe has assembled here, and what unadulterated joy they evince at being able to perform together.

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: ...Shuffle Along...a sometimes inspired and sometimes listless exploration of a path-breaking theatrical work...George C Wolfe has written a script detailing the struggle to bring the show to the stage. Amid these scenes -- some dramatic, some didactic -- are the original songs of Noble Sissle (Henry) and Eubie Blank (Dixon), choreographed in kinetic, hard-striking fashion by the tap mastermind Savion Glover...This Shuffle Along is sometimes edifying and sometimes entertaining, but rarely do these twin aims coincide...it's only when the feet are tapping, the fringe is swaying and the voices of the leads and chorus are celebrating the thrill of syncopation that the musical lives again.

Mark Shenton, The Stage: This astonishing musical is part thrilling re-construction and part vivid deconstruction of the process of putting on a 1921 Broadway show that had had a seismic impact on the art form...There is no greater voice in modern musical theatre than McDonald and she lends those rich, glorious tones to both the title song and the original show's break-out hit (I'm Just) Wild About Harry...But the drive and passion of George C Wolfe's utterly gorgeously executed musical is the percussive tap dancing of choreographer Savion Glover. It propels the stage in a symphony of movement.

Steven Suskin, Huffington Post: This is an ambitious saga, and one which in other hands might likely be doomed to the "good intentions" department. But the show has been devised, written and staged by Wolfe (director of Angels in America and Caroline, or Change) with choreography by Glover (who collaborated with Wolfe on Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk). Effortlessly avoiding the familiar or cliché, they have come up with a fascinating, colorfully grand entertainment.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: The show packs in an inordinate amount of music - including the now-classic "I'm Just Wild About Harry" - and dance. You're always looking forward to what choreographer Savion Glover will come up with next, and his set pieces here are just thrillingly fun. The pace doesn't flag until sometime in the second act, although the "whatever happened to them" epilogue is simultaneously poignant and acerbic. The curtain comes down on a bittersweet note, though without dimming the immense joys that preceded.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Both the opening and closing numbers of this ebullient show pay homage to alumni of the original production of "Shuffle Along" and those who followed. Florence Mills didn't join the show until Gertrude Saunders was fired (both characters are played here by the dynamic Adrienne Warren), and Josephine Baker had to wait until she turned 16 to officially sign on. But Adelaide Hall was in the chorus of Jazz Jasmines. And the refined Lottie Gee, played here by that goddess we mortals know as Audra McDonald, was the star of the original production.

Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

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