Black History Month: West End shows that showcase Black stories
We’re always championing the best in British theatre and beyond, and for Black History Month, we’re taking a look at West End musicals and plays that capture the experiences of Black people in society.
All of these shows are contributing to an ever-changing theatrical landscape, and we can’t wait to see the future stories told by and about Black people on stage.
Bob Marley was a visionary leader of reggae and ska music. And now it’s Arinzé Kene’s turn to change the future of West End theatre. Kene plays the legendary Jamaican superstar in the world premiere of the Bob Marley musical, Get Up, Stand Up! at the Lyric Theatre. The musical is a celebration of Black joy, love, and unity following Bob Marley’s career in a time of political unrest.
All your favourite Bob Marley hits feature in Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical, like “No Woman, No Cry” and “Three Little Birds,” and you’ll be singing your way out of the theatre. It’s not just audiences that are loving the new musical — Get Up, Stand Up! has even been blessed by Bob Marley’s family. So don’t worry about a thing when seeing this musical salute to one of the best singers of all time.
Legendary singer Tina Turner is one of the creatives behind her autobiographical musical, charting her stratospheric pop career. Rather than concentrating on all the glitz and glamour, audiences can also learn more about her humble beginnings as Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee. But where there’s a low, there’s an even greater high, and Tina celebrates all the incredible songs that audiences know and love from Tina Turner.
The world premiere of Tina was staged at London’s Aldwych Theatre, starring Adrienne Warren as the titular songstress. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith won an Olivier Award for his performance as Ike Turner. Tina the Musical also features a book by Black playwright Katori Hall, whose works focus on race and racial identity.
Suzan-Lori Parks’s White Noise is a gripping political drama that examines race relations in contemporary America. White Noise follows four college friends who stay in touch after school, until their beliefs are called into question when the Black, male friend Leo is assaulted by a police officer. Friendships are shaken and loyalties are tested, but it’s an accurate snapshot of inner-city life in a 21st-century Western world.
White Noise asks all the important questions around social justice and activism, Don’t let White Noise be a sound that escapes your mind.
Combining elements of hip-hop and Afropunk, Aleshea Harris’s Is God Is’ has definitely got audiences talking at the Royal Court. In the play, 21-year-old Black twins seek to avenge their past. Their childhood lives were hard, especially when they thought their mum had passed away, but after receiving a letter from their mother, the twins go across the country from the South to California to do themselves and their honour justice, once and for all.
Is God Is is an empowering play, and you don’t have long to catch it though, as the UK premiere closes on 23 October.
London is a diverse city, with people from all around the world living alongside one another, but in this multiculturalism, can an identity be lost? That is what’s happening for Trinidadians Clarence and George in A Place for We. All around them, their lives are changing; gentrification and rising costs are pushing them out of their neighbourhood. But they want to stay true to the beating heart of their cultural Caribbean roots, celebrating the five generations of history that have come before them.
A Place for We is directed by Michael Buffong, the artistic director of the Black British theatre company, Talawa Theatre Company. Make sure you find a place in your calendar for A Place for We, opening at the Park Theatre.
Casting the Founding Fathers as people of colour, Hamilton changed the discourse of American history and musical theatre. Hamilton dramatises the life of Alexander Hamilton, and the show transports audiences to the Battle of Yorktown, presidential discussions and even to the first rumoured affair in American politics. Lead characters in Hamilton are all portrayed by people of colour, except for King George III, as Lin-Manuel Miranda wanted to portray “America then, as told by America now”.
Hamilton won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and broke records for the most Tony Award nominations. The Hamilton Mixtape featured award-winning R&B, soul, and hip-hop artists covering tracks in the show, bringing the stories of Founding Fathers to the masses through music. In July 2020, Hamilton became available to stream on Disney+, with over two million people streaming the show in the first week.