Home Theater Broadway Shock: Shuffle Along Closing July 24 When Audra McDonald Exits

Big news and a surprise. SHUFFLE ALONG is closing on July 24. This is huge because it’s the latest blow. See my previous item about the closings of Fun Home and An American in Paris.

Shuffle Along has been doing decent business. But they were facing the exit of their star Audra McDonald from the start. The plan for what to do next was ill conceived, which producer Scott Rudin has grudgingly conceded.

Of course, Mc Donald was leaving from the get go. Originally she was set to depart for the UK on June 10, and perform her “Lady Day at the Emerson Grill” for three months. The producers of “Shuffle Along” knew this but proceeded to sell tickets as if the beloved six time Tony winner was really part of their show. She was not.

Then, as luck would have it, McDonald discovered she was pregnant. London was cancelled. But that still meant leaving “Shuffle Along.” And it explained her many absences during previews, which were ascribed to a “cold.”

Producers then came up with a plan to put the choreographer Savion Glover into the show even though there was no part written for him– and it might be hard to explain. They also hired a dynamite roots singer, Rhiannon Giddens, who has no theater experience per se.

On the 22nd, Giddens excitedly Tweeted: “Ok, first time taking a cab from rehearsal (walking the streets with two banjos and two bags not an option)…boy howdy is this slow!”

Today once the news broke, she wrote: “My heart is broken. Completely and utterly. Now to pick up the pieces.”

And that’s just the newest tragedy of “Shuffle Along,” which Rudin hoped would be considered a revival and win the Tony Award against “The Color Purple” (which did win) and “She Loves Me” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” Alas, the Tony committee considered “Shuffle Along” original, which meant certain death against “Hamilton.” Even Glover, who I thought might win for choreographer,  was run over by “Hamilton.”

When I saw “Shuffle Along” on April 1st, thanks to $40 tickets, it was clear what was wrong: three hours, no character development, lots of great dancing, but no coherence. George C. Wolfe did what he could– but the concept was undercooked.

Nevertheless, with Brian Stokes Mitchell, and McDonald, and Billy Porter and Brendan Dixon, there was a lot of talent.

Now, 10 of the shows listed on Broadway– roughly a third– of the shows currently playing will be gone by the end of the year. That’s a lot. Of course, new ones will come and replace them. But that’s a lot of money for marketing and production out the window.

I do hope Rudin tweaks “Shuffle Along” for a pared down, shorter, maybe off Broadway version. It would be a shame to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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