This past Broadway season, New York theatre was treated to an explosion of #BlackExcellence. That explosion was Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. Long on title, long on talent. Through a perfect shitstorm of factors (that a lot of us are not so secretly side eyeing) this fantastic show takes its final bow on July 24th, depriving the world of the best Broadway cast of all times. Before we go back to #BroadwaySoWhite business as usual, I had to throw it up for the baddest crew from east to west coast. But what about Hamilton? We ain’t talking about Hamilton. It’s Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed time. Get with the program or stay outta grown folks’ business. So let’s give it up for Top 5 Dead or Alive: Team Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. And put some respek on that name because you’re getting the full title every time.
1) “Jesus was a carpenter, Savion, laid beats
Whole Cast flow the Holy Ghost, get the hell up out your seats”
You wanna talk about a dream team? Imagine 90 – 91 Jordan, LeBron, Steph Curry, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, plus all the original Harlem Globetrotters on one team. Now dose them all with Felix Felicis and you’d be close to the audacious might that is Team Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. Between them, they’re carrying 33 Tony nominations and 11 Tony wins (with 6 for one person alone). This team is rocking five legends, one Hall of Fame-r and two certified GOATs. The greatest tapper alive choreographed this jawn. Audra “my Tony’s got Tony’s” McDonald headlines this beast. But don’t sleep. I name dropped only two GOATs because y’all still sleeping on the rest of this cast. Even the folks on the bench (understudies and swings) slay the game. This is a cornucopia of elite Broadway talent. Don’t debate me. Go debate your auntie.
2) “Ball so hard, this shit crazy
Y’all don’t know that don’t shit phase me
Our lead could be 6 months along and kick her face like this shit gravy”
Team Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed is delivering on the talent. Golden anointed thoaks spill forth buttery notes smoother than the chocolate cake Ms. Trunchbull made ol’ boy eat in Matilda. And if you don’t know what a thoak is, I’ll explain. A thoak is a throat that has been blessed by all the gods and muses. Vocal chords that have reached their final form. These voices are OVER 9000! When Mitsuki in Full Moon wo Sagashite wished for a new voice, god gave her one that matched somebody’s from this cast. And when you have a tap national treasure so fly Nicholas Cage tried to steal him, hooking up your choreo, you know it’s gonna be fleeky. Go ahead and shuffle your basic old time step off to Buffalo. The sounds these dancers coax from metal tipped shoes on a wooden floor will have Michael Flatley scratching his head. Formation game so strong I’m surprised Beyonce hasn’t pulled some bits for her concert tour.
3) “I do it for the fore-fathers and the street authors
That are not A&R’s in the cheap office”
Did you know that Shuffle Along was the first Black Broadway musical? Did you know that it was the first Broadway show to allow Black people to sit as close as the fifth row? Did you know it was the show that took ticket prices from $1.50 to $3.00? Did you know at least two of its actors performed in blackface and they were afraid that showing the love between two Black characters would get them killed? No, I bet you didn’t know any of this. But Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All that Followed hits you with all of this history. And it doesn’t soften the blow or make it easy to digest and forget. George C. Wolfe, as he did with The Colored Museum, holds the mirror up to American society and shows all of us the sins of our past. How the system betrays us and how we betray each other. Did you expect George not to check all of us?
4) “Photo shoot fresh, looking like wealth
I’m ’bout to call the paparazzi on myself”
Show me another cast that maximizes social media better than the cast of Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed and I’ll show you how you’re wrong. There is not a single Broadway cast more social media savvy than the cast of Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. I promise. Check the receipts here, and here, and here. Why does this matter? Because the cast is more well-tuned into the pulse of contemporary marketing than the marketing team but that’s not the tea we’re spilling so I digress.
5) “Flyer than a piece of paper bearin’ my name
Got the hottest dude in the game singing my praise that’s right”
Everybody’s Musical Theatre God, Lin-Manuel Miranda saw Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed (and Audra’s understudy) and had this to say:
Your manz loves this shit! And not just him, everyone’s loving it! So if you didn’t buy a ticket to this show, you slept on a bona fide all-star game. And I feel bad for you, son. I got 99 problems, but missing Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed ain’t one. Hit me!
Seriously, if you missed Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, you missed out on one of the Musical theatre greats. I will forever be heartbroken that this show was given such an unreservedly short run. This business can be ruthless, especially when it comes to telling stories through a non-white lens. But I will sing the praises of Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed from now until eternity because, my God, does this team deserve it.