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BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

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What else do you expect from a true original than something truly original?

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

Last night when his new show BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND debuted at 54 Below, Andre De Shields remarked that he received a Tony Award at the age of seventy-five. It was more than a passing remark because the fact that he has a Tony is of significance, as is the fact that it took them so long to give him one... but he does have one, and he got it when he was seventy-five and all of this is significant. It's more than these things, though. Because Andre De Shields is seventy-five, he has had a remarkable opportunity in life: Andre De Shields has seen it all. More to the point, Andre De Shields has done it all. So, like a magnificent, rare, beautiful, black bird of paradise, Andre De Shields is enormously informed on a wealth of subjects that make him Broadway's great gay grandaddy, and he arrives everywhere he goes in the most incomparable style, the most inimitable splendor, ready to preach the word and teach the world. His isn't the kind of sermon one usually hears in a church, and his aren't the sort of lessons to be learned in a schoolroom, but where Andre the Giant goes, there is change left behind. Turning his life and his art into both pulpit and podium, Mr. De Shields uses religion and spirituality, politics and people, opera and oratory to comment on that which has come before, all that is happening now, and a dream of a future that is on its way but that will take an ongoing Herculean effort to bring into the light.

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND is sold as an evening of cabaret and, indeed, the production is playing one of Manhattan's premiere cabaret rooms or, with the elegance and cache of the venue, supper clubs, and, as cabaret goes, BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND is great theater. Theater is everywhere you look, every day, if you look for it. Church is theater. Politics is theater. Protest is theater. Andre De Shields is theater. In fact, Andre De Shields may be the most theatrical person on earth. Sorry Adam Lambert, sorry RuPaul, sorry Billy Porter - we love you and all your flamboyant individuality, but Andre De Shields got there first. All of the theatrical and flamboyant people of the world are here because Andre De Shields was here first, paving the ground and lighting the way. That is because Andre De Shields knows who he is and what he is about, as he has always done, and that knowledge informs everything he creates, especially when it comes to his nightclub storytelling. In the extremely generous ninety minutes Mr. De Shields gifts to his audience (and even though this is a show for which one pays, it is, every bit of it, a gift from De Shields to us) all of himself - his singing, his dancing, his well-earned opinions, and his well-learned wisdom. Without once looking at a script, tablet, or prompter of any kind, Mr. De Shields uses his time on stage to talk at length about the state of the world, the global health crisis, the black experience, HIS black experience, and the importance of leaning into kindness, and generosity, and love. Although Mr. De Shields is a man who makes his living singing and dancing, no concern hangs in the air over the over-abundance of rhetoric because every word spoken comes from a place of truth, and truth is above all else. Each sentence, every thought, all the themes are absorbed by the audience and the energy sent back into the air, telling Mr. De Shields that he could, that he should keep talking, which is exactly what he does.

And then it is time to sing, once more, to dance, once more. He does that, too.

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND Mr. De Shields has divided his show into two acts, naturally, and though his mission statement as an artist is to tell stories that will illuminate, he makes great good use of the works of other artists before turning to his own. Painstakingly pronouncing the names of his on-stage colleagues for the audiences, Mr. De Shields brings his entire team together for drummer Rudy Bird's rhythm-replete pop and rock-infused first act, much of the music coming from black writers like Brenda Russell, Curtis Mayfield, the sisters Pointer, with Musical Director Sean Mayes layering in strains of other famous compositions like audible little Easter Eggs to entice the ears, dropping in long enough to excite but flying away before becoming comfortable. Like magicians, the entire De Shields company creates a musical whirlpool to sweep everyone in the room up but not away before Andre turns the stage and the show over to Kimberly Marable, Lori Tishfield, and Frieda Williams to perform compositions of a most intuitive and eloquent nature, all bearing writing and composing credits by Mr. De Shields himself (one of the tunes includes a writing credit by Murray Horwitz). In something resembling a mixture of Vaudeville show, political rally, and religious revival, the cast of BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND presents a second act that is (one hopes) the beginning of a new musical written by Mr. De Shields himself, each number compounding astonishment until, like a flash, the stage is left bare and the people in the seats are left breathless and asking themselves, "What did I just see?"

A miracle is what they just saw. A piece of doctrinal, civic, societal, and human theater designed for laughter and musical entertainment... and thought-provoking meditation sent to fill the soul for days to come. And any day that there is theater, meditation, and a miracle is a good day... and those are all the things that enter the room with Andre De Shields, indeed, those are all things that Andre De Shields is, was, and always will be.

Andre De Shields BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND plays through August 7th at 7 pm. For information and tickets visit the 54 Below website HERE.

Visit the Andre De Shields website HERE

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

BWW Review: Andre De Shields Takes 54 Below Audience To Church And Back With BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

Photos by Stephen Mosher


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