Black Broadway; Retrospective entertainment celebrating black performing and creative artists. Orchestrations and musical arrangements by Dick Hyman. Musical direction by Frank Owens.
"Black Broadway" is beautiful and bountiful. It is also bright and bouncy, yet on occasion very moving. The entertainment at Town Hall through May 24 re-creates one of the highlights of the 1979 Newport Jazz Festival. Veteran artists and more recent arrivals perform some 30 or 40 numbers (including medleys) covering roughly a half century of musical-show history and including a long train of composers.
The producers quote Lew Leslie's "Program subject to change owing to magnitude of production." A similar magnitude tends to overwhelm the reviewer of "Black Broadway." Grande dames like Adelaide Hall, Elisabeth Welch, and Edith Wilson sing songs they introduced to Broadway decades ago and honor other singers. There are tributes to Florence Mills and Ethel Waters and a dancing tribute by the fantastic Gregory Hines to Bill (Bojangles) Robinson. (At the Sunday afternoon opening performance, an indisposition prevented Honi Coles from leading his expertise to the festivities.)
The performers include the impeccably soigne Bobby Short, the ineffably sassy Nell Carter, a four-girl song and dance ensemble, and the fleet-footed Charles (Cookie) Cook and Leslie (Bubba) Gaines.
John W. Bubbles, the original Sportin' Life of "Porgy and Bess," sings Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So" (with the audience providing the choral responses) and "There's a Boat That's Leavin' Soon for New York." Eubie Blake got a standing ovation with "Memories of You" and his two versions of "I'm Just Wild About Harry."
Quite apart from its infectious entertainment, the show offers an extraordinary opportunity to experience a sampling of what Mr. Short called "great black artistry on the Great White Way."