Shuffle Along and others set Broadway closings

Brandon Victor Dixon and Audra McDonald and ensemble in Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, featuring music and lyrics by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, book by F.E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles, with a new book and direction by George C. Wolfe and choreography by Savion Glover, at The Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street). © Julieta Cervantes

Brandon Victor Dixon and Audra McDonald in Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, due to close on 24 July. Picture: Julieta Cervantes

Broadway closings continue apace, with Shuffle Along unexpectedly joining the farewell parade.

The show, whose full title is the rather cumbersome Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, posted a 24 July closing notice. That’s the same date that its leading lady, six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, has been scheduled to depart for maternity leave. McDonald, who is married to actor Will Swenson, announced in May that she was pregnant.

The Shuffle Along notice follows closely the leave-taking of another of the past season’s new musicals, Bright Star, with a final performance on 26 June.

Meanwhile, over the past week, two shows from the 2014/15 season, Fun Home and An American in Paris, revealed plans to shut down. Fun Home set a date of 10 September, and An American in Paris will pack up on 1 January.

The Shuffle Along closing was especially surprising because plans were already in progress to replace McDonald with an award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens, making her Broadway debut. It had also been announced that the show’s choreographer, tap dance star Savion Glover, would be joining the cast to shore up the marquee. Furthermore, even when the show first began selling tickets it was noted that McDonald would be gone during the summer to appear in London, repeating her celebrated turn in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. (The Lady Day appearance was scuttled because of the pregnancy.)

However, in announcing the closing, Shuffle Along, which was one of the most heavily anticipated of the season and has been doing well at the box office, noted it faced a steep falloff in sales with McDonald’s absence. When it closes, Shuffle Along, which opened 28 April after 38 previews, will have played 100 regular performances.

Bright Star, a bluegrass musical, boasted Steve Martin, the enormously popular show business multitasker (comedian/actor/ writer/musician), as one of its creators, although he was not part of the cast. It also provided an acclaimed Broadway debut for its leading lady Carmen Cusack; she portrayed the editor of a literary magazine, who discovers that an aspiring writer is her son, born out of wedlock and as an infant, wrested cruelly from her.

Despite its assets, Bright Star failed to heat up the box office. With its closing, the production, which opened on 24 March after 30 previews, counts 109 regular performances.

Both Shuffle Along and Bright Star did well in the Tony nominations, both getting nods as Best New Musical. Shuffle Along picked up an additional nine nominations, while Bright Star received four. However, in the face of Hamilton’s onslaught, neither show took home an award.

With the closing notices of Fun Home, which won five Tony Awards in 2015, including Best New Musical , and An American in Paris, which garnered four Tonys, recent drops in box office were cited. At its final show on 10 September, Fun Home will have played 26 previews and 582 regular performances. On 1 January, An American in Paris will have racked up 29 previews and 719 regular performances.

The shutterings of Bright Star and Shuffle Along mark the sixth and seventh closings among the open-end musicals to have premiered during the 2015/16 Broadway season. The other casualties include Amazing Grace, Dames at Sea, Allegiance, Tuck Everlasting and American Psycho. Still, another show, Disaster!, cut short its limited engagement, closing almost two months before its originally scheduled finale.

Meanwhile, Spring Awakening, which came in for a limited engagement, closed after a brief extension, and She Loves Me, which opened 17 March after 31 previews, is set to conclude its limited but extended run on 10 July.

Ron Cohen

Readers may also be interested in:

Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed – Music Box Theatre, New York– Review


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