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VIDEO: Historic Musical THE BLACK CROOK Seeks Funding For 150th Anniversary Production

The story of how American musical theatre evolved from European operetta, music hall and other forms of Stage Entertainment is a complicated one, but for well over a century the short version has been that the 1866 Niblo's Garden production of THE BLACK CROOK was the first musical.

It was a case of fate, opportunity, invention and improvisation.

Producers Henry C. Jarrett and Harry Palmer signed a Parisian ballet troupe for an engagement at the lavish New York Academy of Music near Union Square, but when a fire burned down the opulent venue, they had to search for other options.

William Wheatley managed the nearby Niblo's Garden on Broadway and Prince Street, and was looking to create a grand spectacle. When the dancers became available, he came up with the idea of incorporating choreography into Charles M. Barras' Faustian melodrama, THE BLACK CROOK. (The title refers to a practitioner of black magic.)

The dances weren't exactly blended into the story, and neither were the new songs written for the occasion, but the elaborate scenic designs and the tantalizing display of dancers in tights that gave the appearance of near-nudity were enough to make THE BLACK CROOK at hot ticket at the 3,200 seat showplace for 474 performances.

The Lower East Side's Abrons Arts Center will celebrate the 150th Anniversary of THE BLACK CROOK from September 19th-October 7th, 2016, with a new production of the historic show conceived and directed by Joshua William Gelb. While the Niblo's Garden production utilized hundreds of performers, this new reimagining casts eight actor-musicians in multiple roles.

Donations to support the production are being accepted via Hatchfund, a non-profit website helping artists reach their financial goals. Click here for more information and check out the video below for more on THE BLACK CROOK.

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From This Author Michael Dale