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Revival of First-Ever American Musical THE BLACK CROOK to Begin This Month

In honor of its 150th anniversary Joshua William Gelb and company revive The Black Crook, the first ever American musical, at the Abrons Arts Center this fall. That is, if you believe the myth.

A year after the Civil War ended, on September 12, 1866, The Black Crook opened at Niblo's Garden on Broadway and Prince Street. The show featured a melodrama about a painter who sells his soul to a Sorcerer, written by Charles M. Barras, and mashed together dance numbers by a Parisian ballet troupe set to popular music. It ran a whopping five hours, boasting 100 performers. It was not only a scandal-the nude tights of the dancers prompted protests-it was also the beginning of Broadway as we know it: sensationalism and spectacle mixing in a melting-pot of entertainment both high and low.

150 years later a team of eight actor/musician/dancers, under the direction of Gelb, stage the full text of the 1866 musical at Abrons, a stone's throw from where Niblo's once stood. Much like the original Black Crook, Gelb's version mixes in a new story-this one about the tragic life of The Black Crook's own author Charles M. Barras. Performers double as the fictional characters of Barras's play and the actual larger than life players from 1866 while also playing music from the original score with new compositions created specially for the 150th anniversary. Each night will feature a special guest performance at intermission. The biggest of all American spectacles is being rescaled into the tiniest of spaces-from Broadway to East Broadway.

"The Black Crook is a post Civil War origin story about American spectacle that not only presages our current Broadway climate, but can be directly linked to the spectacle of the coming election and the desire for escapism in popular culture," says Gelb.

The Black Crooks features Randy Blair, Alaina Ferris, Elizabeth Hagstedt, Steven Rattazzi, Jessie Shelton, Christopher Tocco, Kate Weber and Merlin Whitehawk. The Black Crook is adapted and directed by Joshua William Gelb with music direction by Alaina Ferris, arrangement by Justin Levine, lights by Bradley King, set design by Carolyn Mraz, costumes by Normandy Sherwood and sound design by Matt Stine. Produced by Moe Yousuf.

Tickets: $25. The Black Crook is performed at Abrons Arts Center, which is located at 466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street) in the Lower East Side. F/J/M/Z trains to Delancey/Essex stop. For more information, visit


Joshua William Gelb is a Lower East Side based director, performer and librettist whose work runs the gamut from devised physical theater, to stylized adaptations of classics, to original musicals. His work has been performed across New York including Ars Nova, Incubator Arts, Dixon Place, Target Margin, Ice Factory, JACK, NYMF, Joe's Pub, and Knockdown Center, as well as The Edinburgh Fringe and The Polyphone Festival in Philadelphia. His musicals include Sometimes in Prague, Tully (In No Particular Order), and Hail Oblivion. Gelb is a Sinking Ship Associate Artist, a Carnegie Mellon John Wells Fellow, and a member of the 2012 Lincoln Center Directors Lab.

Charles M. Barras (author of the original The Black Crook)
The following is excerpted from Barras's New York Times obituary Charles M. Barras, a gentleman remarkably well know in theater circles was born in 1826 and in 1860 married Miss Sallie St. Clair, a popular danseuse and soubrette. In 1861 Mr. Barras was The Manager of Pike's Opera-house, Cincinnati. Here he first attracted attention as an actor by an admirable and original personation of Hypochondriac. In 1866 Mr. Barras's name was brought before the American public in an extraordinary manner by the production of "The Black Crook" at Niblo's Garden, of which drama he was the author. As a literary production the "Black Crook" was beneath criticism, but it nevertheless ran for 465 consecutive nights and enabled its author to realize a fortune of $250,000. This latter was accomplished by holding the copyright throughout the country, and claiming a handsome royalty for each performance. Mr. Barras's other literary efforts have obtained for him no reputation. As an actor he will be remembered from only one character, and as an author by one production, which, however, slight in its merits, stands immeasurably superior to any of the spectacular plays which have succeeded it.

The Abrons Arts Center is the Obie-winning arts program of Henry Street Settlement. The Center supports the presentation of innovative, multi-disciplinary work; cultivates artists in all stages of their practice through educational programs, commissions, and residencies; and serves as an intersection of cultural engagement for local, national, and international audiences and arts-workers.

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