Musical Theater is an all-encompassing form of entertainment. It combines song,drama, dance and the visual arts with the intent of dazzling its audience and (in most modern cases) telling a story. The American Musical Theater scene has a very rich history; but also a very white one. I made this post because I thought it was important to share a small part of an overlooked part of American history. This post will contain some obvious choices, but I hope to include some musicals that you haven't heard of. ^-^
1. Porgy And Bess (1935) Music by George Gershwin, libretto DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin
Porgy and Bess is a classic.While not the first of its kind, (according to my bff Google, that honour goes to a musical called Shuffle Along, which predates P&B by 14 years) Porgy and Bess is one of the most famous all-Black musicals of all time and many of its songs are featured in The Great American Songbook.
SYNOPSIS: Porgy is a disabled begger living on Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina. The plot revolves around his love for the alluring Bess, and his subsequent desire to rescue her from Crown, her possesive and violent boyfriend and Sportin' Life, a local drug dealer.
NOTABLE SONGS: The whole musical is notable but I'm just going to put Summertime,because literally EVERYONE knows it and all of your favorite jazz artists have covered it.
Cast Recording: There are like 50 different recordings of Porgy and Bess on Spotify (except for the God-ra McDonald production ;_;) so click on the version you think you would like most!
Anything else?: The movie verison with Dorothy Dandridge as Bess and Sindey Poitier as Porgy.
2. Cabin in the Sky (1940). Music by Vernon Duke, Lyrics by John La Touche and Book by Lynn Root.
I don't think that Cabin in The Sky is an obsure musical but I feel like it gets left out of the conversation. Cabin in the Sky may not be as good as musicals like Porgy and Bess but it will always hold a special nostalgic place in my heart, as it's movie (and Stormy Weather) are what sparked my interest in musical theater. Also Ethel Waters slays.
Synopsis: Cabin in the Sky is essientally a morality tale that centers on the lives of Little Joe and his wife Petunia. Little Joe is an asshole who stays up all night gambling and cheating on Petunia with his sidechick, Georgina. That is, until Joe is killed over some gambling debts. Little Joe is restored back to life and given six months to get his shit together, lest he spend an eternity in hell. With the invisible help of The General (an Angel), Joe seems to be turning his life around. Lucifier Jr. (yes as in son of Lucifer), is pissed off at Joe's new lease on life and is determined to cause him to backslide. Its like Tyler Perry movie if the main character was the darkskinned bald dude from the Practice and the white woman part is played by Lena Horne.
Notable Songs: 'Taking a Chance on Love' and 'Happiness is a Thing Called Joe' (which was nomitated for Best Original Song)
Cast Recording?: Cabin in the Sky: The Soundtrack is on Spotify
3. Carmen Jones (1943) Music by George Bizet with lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstien II
Remember that period in the early 00's there were a bunch of ~sexy teen~ revamps of classics ? 10 Things I Hate About You, Cruel Intentions, O, She's The Man, etc? Well apparently, during the late '30's early 40's had a bunch of black revamps of classic musicals. In addition to Carmen Jones, they had plays like The Hot Mikado, which was The Mikado, just with swing music in it. Weird/cool, right? Anyway, Carmen Jones is most notable for its movie verison, for which Dorothy Dandridge nominated for Best Actress, making her the first African American to be nominated for a leading role.
This, but with more black people and set during WWII
Notable Songs: 'Dat's Love'
(Dorothy Dandridge, despite being known as a singer, didn't sing in Carmen Jones and was dubbed by Marilyn Horne, a white opera singer)
Cast Recording?: The Soundtrack for the film is on Spotify
Anything Else?: As previously mentioned there is the movie version starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte (who was hot as FUCK when he was young)
4. 'The Wiz' (1974) Music and Lyrics by Charlie Smalls and Book by Willam F. Brown
I don't feel any type of way about The Wiz, as I techincally haven't seen it (I've only seen the movie version, which was awful) but I would've been rightfully dragged for not including it in my post.
Synopsis: The Movie and the Musical have two different set ups. In the Movie version, Dorothy is an adult woman cries who way too much and lives with her Auntie Em in New York City. Auntie Em tells Dorothy that she needs to move out (on Thanksgiving, no less). Toto, Dorothy's idiot fucking dog, runs out into a violent snowstorm and Dorothy chases after him. The snowstorm transports Dorothy and Toto to Oz, tear-soaked shenanigans ensue. The musical version is just The Wizard of Oz with funk music in it.
Notable Songs: 'Ease on Down the Road', 'Home'
(Sorry y'all, I know that so many of you love this movie but sweet mericful CHRIST the direction in this movie is awful. It sucked the charisma out of Diana Ross, which is a sin I cannot forgive)
Cast Recording: The OST is on Spotify but the OBCR isn't; which is unfortunate because Stephanie Mills origniated the part of Dorothy. Also be aware that The Movie cut songs from the musical and added orignial songs.
Anything Else?: 'The Wiz Live!' is coming to NBC on Dec 3, so be sure to check it out!
5. Dreamgirls (1981) Music by Henry Krieger, lyrics and book by Tom Eyen
Darlin' There was no way, no no no way I wasn't going to include this on the list. 'Dreamgirls' is iconic and has touched the hearts and minds of many across all ages, genders and nations. Its perfect.
Synopsis: Ok so the plot of 'Dreamgirls' follows the girl group The Dreamettes; made up of Effie White, Deena Jones and Lorell Robinson. The Dreamettes meet Curtis a used car salesmen who is looking to be manager. Curtis rechristens the girls as 'The Dream's and they go on tour with Jimmy 'Thunder' Early. While Jimmy Early and the Dreams are trying to cross over, Lorell and Jimmy being an affair whilst Curtis and Effie begin to date. Some time later, Curtis decides that its in their best interest to relaunch the Dreams as a solo act and decides that Deena would be more a better choice for lead singer due to the fact that Deena's voice is more commerical (has a smoother voice and is prettier), which pisses Effie as she was the original lead singer.Shenangians ensue. Plot of the film is pretty much the same the play, except The Dreams/Supremes thing is more explicit (with the most egregious example being 'When I First Saw You' being set to Beyonce recreating famous Diana Ross reshoots) and focus being places on the rise of Motwon/Rainbow records. Also Jimmy doesn't die in the musical.
Notable Songs: 'And I am Telling You I'm Not Going', 'I am Changing' 'One Night Only', 'Listen'
ok, fine I'll post a good version
(Note: Broadway and Film versions of 'Listen' differ)
Cast Recording?: Both the OST and the OBCR are on Spotify. Yay! The OST cut songs from the show and added in some orignal songs for the movie.
Yaaaayyy my first ONTD Original! What are your fave Black Musicals/Movies ONTD?