Wednesday, January 23, 2019

History changing “Shuffle Along” to be examined by The Musical Theater Project and Karamu

Musical theater and Broadway have been changed by some specific shows.  Included are “Oklahoma!,” the first book musical, “Hair,” and its strong political/anti-war presence, “Chorus Line,” with its emphasis on dance, and “Rent” and its millennium theme.  Another show, which tends not to be as commonly known, is “Shuffle Along.”

“Shuffle Along” is one of the most significant musicals of the 20th century, since it was entirely written and performed by African Americans and was the first show that allowed black theatergoers to watch from the orchestra after so many years of segregated seating. It is noted for bringing the Harlem Renaissance to the musical stage.  

“Shuffle Along” was written by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissler, a Clevelander who graduated from Central High school in 1960.  He was one of 6 black students at the school. 

The program, “The Impact of Shuffle Along,” the first partnership between Karamu House and The Musical Theater Project, will be hosted by Bill Rudman and Tony F. Sias.  It features Treva Offutt, Justin Woody, Evelyn Wright, the Joe Hunter Trio and George Foley.

Sias, who hails from Jackson, Mississippi, has a graduate degree from Ohio University, and is the President and CEO of Karamu.  He was selected by Cleveland Magazine as one of CLE’s “Most Interesting People of 2016.

He came to “the place of joyful gathering” in 2015 after what he termed, “a great 15-year tenure as the director of arts education for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District” and after serving on Karamu’s Strategic Planning Committee.  He signed on with the attitude of “Things needed to happen…the quality of productions, the financial investment in the organization and its programs, and some progressive growth needed to be instituted.”  

Sias, is the product of a creative family, where piano lessons, arts culture, and the civil rights movement were a part of his everyday life.  This background led to his awareness of a need to create “an open, accessible and transparent” organization.  “His staff,” he states, “is lean and mean.”  When hiring he insisted that “they not only had content expertise to an arts discipline, but a good track record of leadership.”

How did the collaboration between TMTP and Karamu come about?  Sias relates that “Bill Rudman and I have worked on projects together. Bill asked if Karamu could partner and I could co-host.   I thought that Bill’s brain-child and the timing were right.”  

Tony’s interest in “Shuffle Along” comes from the awareness that the show “was a turning point of American theatre, helping Broadway redesign itself.”  “It is a seminal piece, has historical relevance and great ragtime and jazz music.  

Sias, who has a strong theater and music background, is looking forward to not only telling the tale, but in singing the show’s score, which includes such classics as “I’m Simply Full of Jazz,” “Love Will Find a Way,” “I’m Just Wild About Harry, “Everything Reminds Me of You,” and “The African Dip.”

“The Impact of Shuffle Along” brings two unique organizations together, each with different demographics to heighten the CLE community’s awareness of an important musical, “telling a story of then and today.”

The concerts will be staged on Thursday, February 7, 2019, Friday, February 8, 2019  and Saturday, February 9, 2019 @ 8:00 PM, and Sunday, February 10, 2019@ 3:00 PM at the newly renovated Jelliffe Theater located at Karamu House, 2355 East 89th Street, which has a fenced, lighted parking lot adjacent to the theatre, and provides free parking.  For tickets, which cost $30, call 216-795-7077 or go to