After this most unusual year for the arts, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe has announced its Maya Angelou-inspired “And Still We Rise” 2021-22 season in its usual way—at a “Hush! Hush!” party for donors and friends, complete with refreshments and entertainment from the coming shows.
Things are not quite back to normal yet, as the event was held in WBTT’s parking lot, with socially distanced tables, instead of inside the theater. And ticket sales won’t begin until later this summer, to be as certain as possible about Covid-19 protocols as we move into the fall.
To those who attended the same event a year ago, there might have been a sense of déjà vu, as some of the shows in the lineup were originally intended for last season, before it was largely derailed by the pandemic.
For example, the season will start with the musical Eubie, a tribute to the songs of the Black composer Eubie Blake (“I’m Just Wild About Harry”) that was planned to open several months ago. Now it is set to run Oct. 6 through Nov. 21.
Likewise, artistic director Nate Jacobs has rescheduled the previously announced world premiere of the musical Ruby, now taking place Jan. 12 through Feb. 24, 2022. Based on the true story of a 1952 murder in Live Oak, Florida, of a white doctor by a Black woman, the case brought national attention to Live Oak in part due to the reporting on it by Zora Neale Hurston. Jacobs collaborated on this project with his brother, Michael.
Broadway in Black, next up March 9 through April 24, was also due back onstage last season (after first being presented by WBTT in the summer of 2017). Now this tribute to the shows and roles that launched the careers of such stars as Melba Moore, Ben Vereen, Jennifer Holliday and Nell Carter will return with direction by Nate Jacobs and choreography by Donald Frison.
Besides Ruby, some other new works will also be seen by WBTT audiences this year. Two world premiere one-act plays, brought to life as part of WBTT’s New Playwrights Series, will be presented together May 4-29, 2022. Both center on real-life African-American celebrities. Tarra Conner jones has written and will star in a piece about actress Nell Carter, From Birmingham to Broadway. And Earley Dean will star as boxing champ Muhammad Ali in Float Like a Butterfly, written by Jacobs and his brother Michael. Both performers delivered selections from those new musicals at the event Monday evening.
In a departure from its traditional alternating holiday presentations of Motown Christmas and Black Nativity, WBTT will also offer a new Christmastime show, Joyful! Joyful!, Dec. 1-30. Jacobs said in announcing this one that “I decided to write a new show to put more joy into the world” during a difficult time. That concert production will include a twist on the carol “Joy to the World,” a version of “Carol of the Bells” that’s an homage to the O’Jays, and a gospel rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” among other holiday songs.
As is traditional, many of those attending the Hush! Hush! announcement promptly signed up to be production sponsors. But again, regular ticket sales will not begin until late summer, so visit westcoastblacktheatre.org for the latest before you call the box office, at (941) 366-1505.