Nicola and I saw *Shuffle Along* on Broadway on 7/19. Richard and I saw it in May - - I had never seen a Broadway show twice in such quick succession, and if you read my review, you'll know that I loved the show but thought it had serious shortcomings, especially in the second act. So why did I see it again so soon?
Audra McDonald was the star of the show, and the plan when the show opened had been for her to leave the show from June to September so she could go to London to do *Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill*, the Billie Holiday show that won her a record-breaking sixth Tony Award. Then the producers announced in May that Audra was pregnant, she was no longer going to London, and she would leave *Shuffle Along* in late July, coming back in September. She was being replaced by Rhiannon Giddens, making her Broadway debut, and a role was being added for choreographer Savion Glover, as a featured dancer. Glover was being added to give an extra boost of star power. Nicola is a big Savion Glover fan (she knows him from *Sesame Street*, how cute is that), and especially after having heard me rave about the show (I routinely call it "the most extraordinary dancing I have ever seen onstage"), we decided to buy tickets for August, to see Glover and Giddens.
Well. Ticket sales went into the toilet when Audra announced she was leaving. Lead producer Scott Rudin (and EGOT winner) said this in a statement: "...the need for Audra to take a prolonged and unexpected hiatus from the show has determined the unfortunate inevitability of our running at a loss for significantly longer than the show can responsibly absorb, and we have decided to close the show when she leaves on July 24."
Of course there was a huge outcry at this news, from fans of the show, the cast, Audra herself, writers for major newspapers, the guy at the corner deli. A friend of mine said that it was sexist that they were closing the show due to Audra's pregnancy. But as much as I loved the show and would have loved for it to have had a long run, the cold hard truth is that the producers of the show are in the business of making money. They would keep the show open if it was making a profit, and they were completely in their rights to close the show rather than lose money. I RUSHED to the box office the day the news broke and exchanged our tickets for late July.
Just as in May, the house was packed and the audience was hopped up. I was surprised that I enjoyed the show even more the second time. The dancing didn't have the same impact as the first time, I thought that might happen. There was nothing like the power and force of that dancing the first time.
I had two big issues with the show from the first performance I saw: I thought the second act didn't deliver in a satisfying way, and I didn't care for Billy Porter's show-stopping number (also in the second act). The second act didn't bother me the second time, maybe because I didn't have high expectations of it. And Billy Porter's number was much stronger. I don't know if he did a better job with it, or if the audience was more supportive, but it was very good.
This is just the kind of show that would have been filmed for PBS thirty years ago, and the young people in the provinces (like me) would have seen it and been rabid for it. Sad that won't happen this time.
The end of the show had a very special poignancy. We're led through each of the main characters and told what happens to them after *Shuffle Along* closed, when they died, all that. And they all look back wistfully at *Shuffle Along* as a high point of their careers, of their lives. Is it possible that the actors in this production were thinking the same thing, in the last week of performances?