The Houghton Library at Harvard University has acquired a typed script of an unfinished James Baldwin play “The Welcome Table.” The manuscript is the 3,000 item acquired by the library archives since 1874.
One of the main characters in the Baldwin play, Peter Davis, is based on Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard. Another character is based on Josephine Baker. In 1973, Professor Gates, who was working as a London-based journalist at the time, drove Josephine Baker to Baldwin’s villa in France, where the three dined together.
There are four known versions of the script that were written over the years. In one version, Professor Gates is a young man but in a later version he is a middle-aged man. Gates owns one of the other copies of the unfinished play. Another is held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Cultureof the New York Public Library. The fourth is owned by a private collector.
Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will return to Broadway in spring 2016 in a new collaboration with Tony-winning director George C. Wolfe and Tony-winning choreographer Savion Glover. The collaboration is called Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Follows. The production begins previews March 14, 2016, at the Music Box Theatre, with opening night set for April 21.
McDonald will play Lottie Gee, the 1920s performer who appeared in the cast of Shuffle Along. This 1921 musical by Flournoy Miller, Aubrey Lyles, Eubie Blake, and Noble Sissle altered the face of Broadway in giving several black performers their first Broadway credits. The show helped launch the careers of Josephine Baker, Florence Mills, and Paul Robeson, among many others.
Ninety-five years later, this backstage musical will explore the creation of this now-forgotten show. Wolfe directs and pens the book, while Glover choreographs. It marks their first collaboration since their 1996 hit Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk. The production will have music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Daryl Waters, scenic design by Santo Loquasto, costume design by Ann Roth, and lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Scott Rudin serves as producer.
Additional information about the production will be revealed in the coming months.
Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter, has written Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $17.99, ages 6-10), a sentimental book about his early life (sensitively illustrated by A.G. Ford).
Also available for elementary school readers is Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (Chronicle Books, $17.99, ages 7-10), Patricia Hruby Powell’s scrupulously researched, high-spirited celebration of the color-line-crossing dancer, illustrated by Christian Robinson.
Writing in jazzy, syncopated free verse, Powell, a former dancer, finds the seeds of Baker’s passion in her hardscrabble St. Louis childhood. “I didn’t have any stockings … I danced to keep warm,” Baker explains. The author detects heat too in the frustration and fury fueled by racism, which she compares to hot lava, burning deep in the dancer’s soul and released like steam “in little poofs” when she performs.
Powell’s poetic voice details not only Baker’s rise to stardom, onstage triumphs and offstage heroism but also her disappointments, excesses and her descent into homelessness before a glorious return to the stage and funeral fit for a queen.
Robinson’s richly vibrant, sensually expressive illustrations also capture the dancer’s lithe power and passion. Robinson credits the work of Paul Colin, who created the La Revue Negre posters that propelled Baker to fame in France and beyond, as his primary inspiration. But his palette also evokes Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series,” adding emotional weight.