How do you present a century or so of Black achievements on Broadway in one musical revue? There must be many ways, but broadly speaking, there are two approaches: Curate a small, targeted sampling, or, in the spirit of the thing, be as inclusive as possible.
The second is the path that Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Broadway in Black takes. (It’s an updated and revised version of a show the company first presented back in 2017; read here.) The production is packed full of numbers, clocking in at nearly two and a half hours including intermission, which makes for a daunting song list in the program book. But it has to be said that the 14-member cast (seven males, seven females) never flags in energy or enthusiasm for the tunes they deliver, whether they be gospel or calypso inflected, R&B, rock, pop, or more traditional Broadway style.
As choreographed by Donald Frison and directed by show creator Nate Jacobs, Broadway in Black strives to offer something for just about everyone. A fan of pioneers like Eubie Blake (“I’m Just Wild About Harry”), Duke Ellington (“Sophisticated Lady”) or Fats Waller (“How Ya Baby”)? Check, check, check.
More into hits from the 1970s, 1980s and on? How about Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ creations from Once On This Island or Ragtime? Love Dreamgirls and The Wiz? They’re here. So are even more recent additions, like “Bad Girls” and “Proud Mary” from Broadway tribute shows to Donna Summer and Tina Turner, respectively.
You’ll probably be familiar with many of the numbers, but it’s nice to hear a few that are less known, like two from the Kander-Ebb musical The Scottsboro Boys (“Commencing in Chattanooga” and “Go Back Home”), or, probably, “Dat’s Love” from Carmen Jones (the latter here presented with plenty of sizzle by Katherine Taylor). And hearing several pieces from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (a touching “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” featuring Brian Boyd and Delores McKenzie; a male ensemble having fun with “It Ain’t Necessarily So”) is enough to make you wish you could see the whole (seldom-produced) show.
Many in the audience, though, will doubtless be pleased to hear once more some hits WBTT has included in previous shows, like its by-now almost trademark “Roll Jordan” (headed by Syreeta Banks), “Saturday Night Fish Fry” (from Five Guys Named Moe), and “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” (also a spotlight for Banks). Pretty much everybody gets a chance to shine, whether it’s veteran Ariel Blue (channeling the Wicked Witch on “No Bad News"), newcomer Helen Jane Planchet (“Hit Me With a Hot Note”), Raleigh Mosely II (a fervent “When I First Saw You”), Michael Meija-Mendez as The Wizard, or Jai Shanae on the highly suggestive “Push Da Button.”
Frequently showcased as a dancer, the loose-limbed Derric Gobourne Jr. is back to demonstrate his agility, as is Brentney J, strutting her stuff. Leon S. Pitts revels in playing Waller on “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” and newcomers Dale Hill and Stephen White Jr. are utility players on several male ensemble numbers.
Costume designer Darci Collins and wig designer Travis McCue must have worked overtime to produce the many, many variations taking us through the decades. And, of course, kudos to music director Matthew McKinnon, whose band does outstanding work throughout.
Broadway in Black continues through April 24. For tickets, call (941) 366-1505 or visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.