It was a magical night at the Miracle Theatre in DC,at the screening of the upcoming PBS special Black Broadway: A Proud History, A Limitless Future. Though it was a Monday night in February, the milieu was warm. In the elegant yet intimate lobby, popcorn, wine, candy, and conversation filled the air.
In Black Broadway: A Proud History, A Limitless Future, the American Pops Orchestra (APO) showed iconic performances by beloved Black Broadway actors and singers. PBS filmed the special on October 5 at Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium. Student choirs from Morgan State and Howard Universities accompanied the performers. PBS will air the special on February 28.
APO’s Founder and Music Director Luke Frazier has been instrumental in putting on a series of nationally televised specials in collaboration with PBS. He founded APO in DC in 2015. The specials include Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, WICKED in Concert, We Are Family: Songs of Unity and Hope, and An Evening with Lerner and Loewe. PBS recorded many of the specials during the darkest days of the pandemic, but Frazier said, “I don’t believe in giving up in the face of adversity. The APO team embraced this concept, and APO has moved ahead in ways we never could have imagined, reaching more viewers and participants than ever before.”
The filmed special mesmerized many attendees. “It’s good to see Black excellence can be showcased in all its greatness,” said local and renowned jazz singer Yvette Spears.
One of the filmed performers, Nova Payton, was in attendance. “The first one [APO performance] was during the pandemic. I feel like the energy was so much different. The talent was unmatched,” she said of the other performers.
I felt the verve and panache of many of the performances on the screen. Two of the performances I loved were the numbers sung by Norm Lewis, a Tony, Emmy, and SAG Award nominee. Lewis’ songs included “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” from Porgy and Bess and “Waiting for Life” from Once On This Island.
Prodigy violinist Leah Flynn blessed the audience with “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. John Manzari, a Broadway choreographer, performed “Low Down Blues” from Shuffle Along.
“Stan’ Up an’ Fight” (Carmen Jones) got me in a spirited mood, as sung by Grammy winner and Hamilton veteran Sydney James Harcourt. Amber Iman performed “Learn to Love.”
Payton belted out the unforgettable “And I Am Telling You” from Dreamgirls — one of the better renditions of that song I’ve heard. Additionally, Payton performed “I’m Here” from the musical The Color Purple, in which she had a role at Signature Theatre. Peppermint, an actress, singer, and drag artist, humorously performed the title song from Ain’t Misbehavin’.
Stephanie Mills, who played Dorothy in the original Broadway production of The Wiz, excelled in her performance of “Home.” Other featured artists included television veteran Corbin Bleu (“Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime), Broadway performer Tiffany Mann (“I Got Love” from Purlie and “Fools Fall in Love” from Smokey Joe’s Café); and concert soloist Nikki Renée Daniels (“Being Alive” from Company and “Come Rain or Come Shine” from St. Louis Woman).
Black Broadway: A Proud History, A Limitless Future was a night of Black excellence. Tune in when it airs on PBS.
Black Broadway: A Proud History, A Limitless Future will air on PBS nationwide on February 28, 2023. Check local PBS listings for exact information. For more information click here.