What in the World is Going On with 'Shuffle Along'?

Chris Peterson

OnStage Founder & Editor-in-Chief


When it was announced, Shuffle Along, the musical about the making of the first all-black musical in Broadway history, was poised to be Hamilton's competition at the Tonys. With its all-star cast, stellar creative team and its Tony-bait premise, this was sure to make an impact this spring. 

However, just a week before opening night, there is still so much mystery surrounding this production and what we are hearing about it, isn't good.

The first issue is the material itself. When it was announced, it sounded like this musical was going to be about the behind the scenes process of making the original production of Shuffle Along in 1921. However, as we got closer, it was said that the show would use all of the original songs yet with a different book, making it a quasi-revival. Because these is so much in the air, the Tony Rules Committee haven't decided on whether or not it's a new musical of a revival. 

Regardless, sources are telling me the show isn't polished and "not nearly" a finished product. Even though previews are a time for adjustment the term "not nearly", five days before press performances, is worrisome. Multiple previews have already been cancelled due to illness and other conflicts, not to mention the show was closed for four days to correct and revise issues. 

Then we found out that Audra McDonald will only be in the show for its first six weeks before she heads to London for a three month engagement of “Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill”. When you lose your star just about two months in, that's not a good sign. 

The other concern is the lack of publicity I've seen regarding this show. This picture to your right is 1 of 2 pics I could find. I don't know what its says when there is so little publicity about a Broadway show opening a week from today, but I don't think it's a good thing. Keep in mind that this show skipped doing an out-of-town tryout instead opting for a developmental workshop. So it's buzz is based on the people involved rather than the reactions of people who have seen it.

Then there is what we found out the other day, when it was reported that producer Scott Rudin asked Shuffle Along not to be considered for the Outer Critics and Drama League Awards, because the show isn't ready. And while neither of those awards are strong prognosticators for the Tonys, it certainly kills any momentum to earn nominations. Given that the Drama Desk Awards are being announced the morning of Shuffle Along's opening night, it doesn't give much time to impress award voters. 

The optimist in me wants to say that everything is going to be ironed out and find by April 28th, but these signs are giving me pause.