​"Shuffle Along": Re-imagining Broadway history

Folks were wild about "I'm Just Wild About Harry" back when the Paul Whiteman Orchestra recorded it in 1922. Now, a revival of the musical that launched the song is Broadway bound, and "Sunday Morning" will be following its progress every step of the way. Maurice DuBois will be our guide:

The curtain is going up on something new ... that's something old: A Broadway show celebrating what it means to make it to the top.

For months now, the cast of "Shuffle Along" has been hard at work perfecting a show that was the talk of the town nearly 100 years ago.

This new version, opening next year, is a re-imagining of one of the earliest hit musical comedies starring, written and directed by African-Americans.

"Shuffle Along": George C. Wolfe on a "footnote" of 1921

"And then history stepped in and said, 'Thank you -- and maybe we'll remember you, and maybe we won't," said Tony Award-winning director George C. Wolfe.


In fact, history did NOT remember "Shuffle Along." But the legendary Josephine Baker launched her career with the 1921 show, which also featured a young baritone named Paul Robeson, and a score by the team of Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, including hits like "I'm Just Wild About Harry."

Six-time Tony-winner Audra McDonald said it was important for her to do this show. "This is a part of my history, and I didn't know it," she said.

Stars on bringing "Shuffle Along" to life

That's just one of the reasons McDonald joined the cast, well before Wolfe had even finished the script.


"Shuffle Along" will be his 18th Broadway show -- and, he says, it doesn't get any easier.

"Musicals are hateful," he told DuBois. "Musicals are horrible, horrible things to work on because they're just hard."

Particularly hard because Wolfe is actually telling TWO stories. There's the original plot -- about a less-than-honest mayoral election in a place called Jimtown, USA -- and Wolfe is also telling the behind-the-scenes story of the real-life actors and writers whose lives changed because of the musical's success.

In the months of workshops and rehearsals gearing up for "Shuffle Along"'s opening, Wolfe and company have learned what works and what doesn't.

"I actually threw some tap shoes on a few months back just to see what would happen," said actor Brian Stokes Mitchell. "And my timing was very awful, you know? But it came back after a while!"

Mitchell won a Tony Award in 2000 for "Kiss Me, Kate," as did cast-mate Billy Porter in 2013 for "Kinky Boots."

Porter says choreographer Savion Glover has added hurdles they haven't faced before.

"I learned how to tap traditionally," Porter said. "I can say this: I learned how to tap from the white folks! I was at a ballet bar. It was very technical. Now, it's like learning a whole 'nother language."

Savion Glover and George C. Wolfe revive "Shuffle Along"

Glover, who's considered the world's greatest tap dancer, makes it look easy. But Audra McDonald says it's not.


"I have not tap danced for over a decade," she said.

"I'm watching the rehearsals," said DuBois. "I'm seeing energy, I'm seeing intensity. I'm also seeing certain actors trying to keep up with a certain dancer out front."

"Absolutely. I'm sure one of the actors you're seeing trying to keep up is me!" she laughed. "Because Savion doesn't necessarily say, 'This step is a left flap-ball-change-shuffle.' He goes, Ba-da-da ba-da-da ... it's just call-and-response with him. That's how he teaches."