10 Shows To See In Honour of Black History Month
October is Black History Month, and since representation is a hugely important aspect of equality, one of the ways you can honour the holiday is by attending a meaningful play or musical in London. (But really, you should attend these shows any time.)
Casey Nicholaw’s electrifying revival of Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen’s musical – inspired by the fraught story of Diana Ross and The Supremes – is a feast for the eyes and ears, with its sequined ’60s costumes and score. A fascinating slice of music history, it’s also still relevant to some of today’s struggles in the entertainment business.
Arinzé Kene’s ground-breaking show took the Bush Theatre by storm, and now has a very welcome encore run at Trafalgar Studios, making Kene only the second black British playwright to have his work staged in the West End. This mind-bending piece explores contemporary London life and questions the very act of creation and of representing your community – all accompanied by a thrilling original score.
Writer Katori Hall (“The Mountaintop”) and director Phyllida Lloyd (“Mamma Mia!”) join forces to tell Tina Turner’s story – from growing up in Nutbush, Tenn., through her abusive partnership with Ike Turner, and finally her rebirth as a (then unheard of) rock ‘n’ roll star. Leading lady Adrienne Warren doesn’t so much play Tina as channel her in the most extraordinary way – the climactic concert is pure celebration.
Based on a true story, Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s fierce and fabulous musical sees an enterprising drag queen rescue a failing Northampton shoe factory – while also opening minds and hearts. Simon-Anthony Rhoden currently stars as Lola, challenging overt and more insidious prejudice with wit, heart, and sizzling style.
This loving tribute to the King of Pop recently moonwalked into its record-breaking 4,000th performance. A phenomenal cast celebrates Michael Jackson’s career, and his unparalleled music and dance legacy, through his indelible hits: from “Can You Feel It” and “Smooth Criminal” to “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” It’s a reminder of Jackson’s boundary-defying artistic versatility – which, along with his talent, continues to inspire.
“The Lion King”
The beloved Disney film has been imaginatively translated to stage by director Julie Taymor, using incredible puppetry and authentic African storytelling. From the percussive rhythms guiding the score to masks to six different African languages, “The Lion King” takes the story back to its roots.
Despite the increase of nontraditional casting across the industry, many still have fixed ideas of how their favourite characters should appear. That makes it particularly significant when high-profile shows like the West End’s “Les Miserables” follow suit. Amara Okereke currently stars as Cosette, making her the first actor of color to take on the role in the production. The show itself also has potent themes of injustice and inequality, and the dream of revolutionising a rigid society.
Praised at this summer’s Edinburgh Festival, Camilla Whitehill and Strictly Arts’ play now comes to London. Her subject is William Freeman, the first defendant to plead insanity in a U.S. court, and this incisive production uses six stories to examine the relationship between mental health and institutionalised racism through history. Though a tough subject, it’s inventively explored via physical theatre, music, shadow puppetry and spoken word. It’s a quick run, so don’t miss out.
“Motown: The Musical”
Berry Gordy changed the world by founding record label Motown, originating the mega-careers of some of the industry’s greatest stars – from Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye to Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Michael Jackson – and, crucially, working to bridge the racial divide in music, and beyond. The show offers a vivid snapshot of the era, with all the smooth moves and, of course, the hits – a staggering 59 of them!
“Porgy and Bess”
This full-scale English National Opera staging of the Gershwins’ gorgeous work is a real treat, giving serious heft to their musical tale of a disabled beggar and the drug-addicted woman he loves in 1920s South Carolina. A 40-strong, majority-black chorus lends palpable soul to the wonderful score, which features jazz, blues, ragtime and spirituals – including the much-covered “Summertime” – led by the talented Eric Greene, Nicole Cabell, Nmon Ford and Latonia Moore.