Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

The Timeless Modernism of “Shuffle Along”

A Broadway sort-of-revival may have tapped out early, but its beauty and importance remain undiminished

Audra McDonald in "Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed"
Ehud Asherie, who interprets "Shuffle Along" on a recent album

With the house lights up, the curtain down and ticketholders still finding their seats, you could already hear them tapping. It was minutes to showtime at New York’s Music Box Theatre in late June, and the virtuoso cast of Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed was warming up, furiously. Then through the hall came a loud, punctuated cheer-the cast again, still behind the curtain, after the preshow group huddle. The whole audience felt it, like plane engines revving right before takeoff: the buildup to an immense blast of creative exertion.

Starring Audra McDonald, with direction by George C. Wolfe and choreography by Savion Glover, this Shuffle Along was not the original Shuffle Along, the landmark musical created by songwriter and stride pianist Eubie Blake, vocalist/lyricist Noble Sissle and the comedy team of Flournoy (or F. E.) Miller and Aubrey Lyles. Rather, it’s a story about the show-the first Broadway musical, as one onstage narrator put it, to feature a jazz score. It’s the story of complex human relationships and cultural politics at a transformative period in time. It’s also, I would argue, part of a welcome development, a historical turn that’s become more evident in jazz and perhaps the arts in general.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published