Shuffle Along the Broadway Musical
The piece premiered on Broadway in 1921, running for 504 performances – an unusually long run during that decade. It launched the careers of Josephine Baker, Adelaide Hall, Florence Mills, Fredi Washington andPaul Robeson, and became such a hit that it caused “curtain time traffic jams” on West 63rd Street. A Broadway adaptation, Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, has a book by George C. Wolfe about the challenges of mounting the original production and its effect on Broadway and race relations. It began preview performances in March 2016.
The four writers were African-American Vaudeville veterans who first met in 1920 at a NAACP benefit that was held in Philadelphia. None of the four had ever written a musical, or even appeared on Broadway.Promoters were skeptical that a black-written and produced show would appeal to Broadway audiences. After finding a small source of funding, Shuffle Along toured through New Jersey and Pennsylvania. However, with little funding, it was difficult to meet travel and production expenses, and the cast rarely got paid. When the show came back to New York, about a year later, during the Depression of 1920–21, the production owed $18,000 and faced strong competition on Broadway in a season that included Ziegfeld’s Sally and a new edition of George White’s Scandals. It was only able to book a remote theater on West 63rd Street. In the end, however, the show turned a substantial profit.