Black artists have made significant contributions to the American Theatre. Laguna Playhouse celebrates these contributions all year long, and not just during the month of February. We are proud to call attention to this body of work, and encourage you to revisit the pieces that have impacted your life and explore those that might be new to you.
This page will be available and updated on a regular basis throughout the year. 

Growing up in Inglewood, CA, in a predominately black community, I learned Lift Every Voice and Sing early in my life. We sang it in church, at graduations, at school assemblies, before or after the annual MLK Day Parade, for Juneteenth, and always to kick off Black History Month. In fact, I don't know a time that I did not know this song.  In 2018, as I watched Beyoncé perform her HBCU Homecoming themed show at Coachella, I was moved by so many of the visuals. But nothing moved me more than when I watched her perform Lift Every Voice and Sing. In the September 2018 issue of Vogue Magazine Beyoncé noted, "I know that most of the young people on the stage and in the audience did not know the history of the black national anthem before Coachella. But they understood the feeling it gave them." The feeling it gives me is reverence for the past, motivation for the present, and optimism for the future. I sometimes sing this to my daughter as I put her to sleep. We share these feelings through the melodies and that is why I just had to share those feelings and this song with all of you-- the Laguna Playhouse patrons, supporters and staff as we kick off Black History Month. - Veltria Roman, Director of Ticketing and Data Operations

To read Veltria's full remarks and the full lyrics to Lift Every Voice and Sing, click here.

Here are some of Broadway’s most popular musicals, written by or based on Black artists. How many have you seen?

5 GUYS NAMED MOE

Featuring the hit songs of songwriter and saxophonist Louis Jordan, whose new slant on jazz paved the way for rock and roll in the 1950s, Nomax, whose girlfriend has left him and who is without money, finds Big Moe, Four-Eyed Moe, Eat Moe, No Moe, and Little Moe emerging from his 1930s-style radio to comfort him. The musical won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment and premiered on Broadway in 1992.

AIN’T MISBEHAVING

Winner of the 1978 Tony for Best Musical, this musical is a loving tribute to the black musicians of the 1920s and 1930s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance. The show takes it’s name from the song by Fats Waller. Five performers present an evening of rowdy, raunchy, and humorous songs that encapsulate the various moods of an era of growing creativity, cultural awareness, and ethnic pride. The 1988 Broadway revival was also nominated for Best Musical.

AIN'T TOO PROUD

The Temptations' extraordinary journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, is highlighted in the jukebox musical Ain't Too Proud. This is the thrilling story of how The Temptations met, the groundbreaking heights they hit, and how personal and political conflicts threatened to tear the group apart as the United States fell into civil unrest. Brotherhood, family, loyalty and betrayal are all set to the beat of the group's treasured hits, including “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination,” “Get Ready,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and so many more.

BLUES IN THE NIGHT

Set in a rundown Chicago hotel in 1938, this musical revue features the  torch songs and blues of Bessie Smith, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Gordon Jenkins, and Alberta Hunter, among others. This Tony nominated Best Musical played to  Laguna Playhouse audiences in 2019. Sheldon Epps directed both the Broadway version, and the Laguna Playhouse version. 

BRING IN 'DA NOISE, BRING IN 'DA FUNK 

This Tony Nominated musical uses songs and dance, particularly innovative tap stylings led by Tony winning choreographer Savion Glover, to highlight the history of black men in America from slavery to the present day. The musical numbers are presented along with supertitles, projected images and videotapes and with continuing commentary. The show was conceived and directed by George C. Wolfe, and featured music by Daryl Waters, Zane Mark and Ann Duquesnay; lyrics by Reg E. Gaines, George C. Wolfe and Ann Duquesnay; and a book by Reg E. Gaines.

BUBBLING BROWN SUGAR

Set in a Harlem nightclub of the 1920s-1940s, Bubbling Brown Sugar is a musical revue written by Loften Mitchell based on a concept by Rosetta LeNoire and featuring the music of numerous African-American artists who were popular during the Harlem Renaissance, 1920–1940, including Duke Ellington, Eubie Blake, Count Basie, Cab Calloway and Fats Waller. Original music, including the title theme song "Bubbling Brown Sugar" was composed by pianist Emme Kemp, a protégé of the legendary Eubie Blake. It was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical.

CARMEN JONES

Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen is updated to a World War II-era African-American setting. Parachute maker Carmen Jones makes a play for a "fly boy" Air Force man, Joe, who is in love with sweet Cindy Lou. The 1943 musical was produced using an all-black cast with only one member who had ever been on a stage before. It was adapted to film in 1954 by Hammerstein and Harry Kleiner and starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte.

Watch it now on Amazon.

DREAMGIRLS

Nominated for a whopping 13 Tony Awards and winning six, Dreamgirls follows the story of a young female singing trio from Chicago who become music superstars. Originally starring Jennifer Holliday, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Loretta Devine, Holliday's recording "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" was a #1 single on the Billboard R&B charts in 1982. The cast recording won two Grammy awards including Best Musical Album. It was later adapted into a motion picture in 2006.

Watch the movie with Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy on Amazon.

JELLY’S LAST JAM

The troubled legacy of Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, better known as Jelly Roll Morton, a Creole man who claimed to have invented jazz but always shunned the black side of his heritage, is examined in musical terms as Morton faces death. This journey to the 1920s blends history and social commentary with fantastic and revolutionary music of the time. Featuring explosive dance numbers, and such famous songs as “Lonely Boy Blues” and “Chicago Stomp”.  

MOTOWN

Based on Barry Gordy’s autobiography To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown (1994), and on the history of his founding and running of the Motown record label, and the many friends he made along the way, this jukebox musical production's music and lyrics are taken from selections from the Motown catalog and received four Tony nominations.

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND

This one-act musical with a book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty is based on the 1985 novel My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy, has itself has been described as a Caribbean re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen's “The Little Mermaid.” Set in the French Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea,  it’s the story of a peasant girl on a tropical island, who uses the power of love to bring people together of different social classes. The original Broadway production ran from 1990-1991. The revival won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a musical. A Disney film adaption is currently in development for Disney+.

PURLIE

Ossie Davis’s award-winning 1961 play, Purlie Victorious, about black man who dreams of being a preacher and works to take control of the church in his small Georgia community was turned into an exciting musical by Peter Udell (lyrics) and Gary Geld (music). Purlie was which was later made into the 1963 film Gone Are the Days! and which included many of the original Broadway cast, including Davis, Ruby Dee, Alan Alda, Beah Richards, Godfrey Cambridge, and Sorrell Booke. The title “Gone Are the Days!” is taken from the first line of Stephen Foster's sentimental classic "Old Black Joe." The film was released nearly one hundred years after the famous songwriter's death.

Watch Gone Are the Days! on YouTube.

RAISIN

With music by Judd Woldin, lyrics by Robert Brittan, and a book by Robert Nemiroff and Charlotte Zaltzberg, Raisin is an adaptation of the Lorraine Hansberry play A Raisin in the Sun; the musical's book was co-written by Hansberry's husband, Robert Nemiroff. The musical was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning two, including Best Musical, and the Broadway production ran for 847 performances.

SOPHISTICATED LADIES

The musical legacy of Duke Ellington is celebrated in this stylish and brassy retrospective.

Conceived by Donald McKayle, this musical transports audiences on a high-stepping, dynamic journey through the life and times of one of America’s greatest showmen. With hits as “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” and the title song “Sophisticated Ladies” this musical earned two Tony Awards and eight nominations. 

THE COLOR PURPLE

Based on the 1982 novel of the same name by Alice Walker and its 1985 film adaptation, The Color Purple is a musical with a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray. The show follows the journey of Celie, an African-American woman in the American South from the early to mid-20th century. The original Broadway production ran from 2005 to 2008, earning eleven Tony Award nominations in 2006. An enthusiastically acclaimed Broadway revival opened in late 2015 and ran through early 2017, winning two 2016 Tony Awards—including Best Revival of a Musical. A film adaptation of the musical is currently in the works for a December 20, 2023 release.

THE WIZ

"Ease On Down the Road," with this retelling of L. Frank Baum's children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the context of contemporary African-American culture. Winning seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical for the 1975 Production, a big-budget film adaptation of the same name, with music by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, co-starring Richard Pryor, Nipsey Russell. Music by Quincy Jones was released in 1978. A live television production of the stage version, The Wiz Live!, was broadcast on NBC on December 3, 2015

Watch the Wiz, staring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, co-starring Richard Pryor and Nipsey Russell on Hulu.

 

Here are some documentaries on black history and the black experience, all streaming now! Curated by Leah Marilla Thomas and Ashley Oken at Yahoo!

THE LOVING STORY (2011)

Until recently, the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple in Virginia who traveled to D.C. to get legally married only to face a massive legal battle and jail time when they returned home, was not common knowledge. The American Civil Liberties Union took on their case and went all the way to the Supreme Court. Their victory marked a turning point, and 16 states overturned bans on interracial marriage in response—all because of one sweet, unassuming couple.

ETHNIC NOTIONS (1987)

You’ll need a library card to stream this documentary, but it’s absolutely worth it. Marlon Riggs’ Ethnic Notions tracks the history of anti-Black stereotypes in popular culture, particularly cartoons, and how those harmful depictions have evolved from the antebellum period to the 1980s. We’ve all been coded with racist imagery since birth and we still see variations on the “mammy,” “magical negro,” and other tropes in films and television today. If you’ve ever been told that a popular film is racist and you didn’t think it was a big deal, this is the doc for you.

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (2018)

It’s a bit of an obvious choice—interest in Raoul Peck’s Oscar-nominated documentary that explores James Baldwin’s unfinished work spiked in June 2020. But that doesn’t make Baldwin’s words and how he remembers figures from the Civil Rights Movement (Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers) any less important. The documentary underlines the connection between the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Lives Matter movement, which unfortunately still needs to be reiterated over and over.

FREEDOM RIDERS (2010)

If you need proof that protests work and young people can make a difference, look no further than the story of the Freedom Riders, who pushed back against Jim Crow laws in the American South in 1961. This group of hundreds of activists included Representative John Lewis and brought an unprecedented amount of attention to segregation and troubles on the home front when national attention had turned overseas. 

13TH (2016) 

The 13th amendment officially ended slavery in the United States back in 1865, and Netflix’s 13th, named after that amendment, delves into why slavery never really ended and was basically just replaced with mass incarceration. Directed by filmmaker Ava DuVernay, the film puts the country’s history of racial inequality on full display through the lens of the nation’s prisons, which are disproportionately filled with Black Americans.

DARK GIRLS (2011)

Dark Girls explores the deep-seated biases within Black culture against those of darker skin tones. This doc, which was nominated for a 2011 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Documentary, is filled with interviews from children, award-winning actresses, and Black female comedians who have experienced this bias. An equally powerful follow-up documentary, Dark Girls 2, goes even deeper on the prejudices that dark-skinned women face culturally and globally.

WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)

Okay, this technically falls more into the “biopic” category because it’s a fictionalization of real events, but we’re putting it here anyway. Another Ava DuVernay creation, this Netflix series illustrates the story of the Exonerated Five—formerly known as the Central Park Five—both artfully and powerfully. This four-part limited series tells the story of how the five men, four who are Black and one who is Latino, were falsely accused of and prosecuted for raping and assaulting a woman in Central Park. The series serves as a reminder of how badly the justice system has failed people of color (and continues to do so).

FAUBOURG TREME: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BLACK NEW ORLEANS (2008)

Faubourg Tremé is one of the oldest Black neighborhoods in America, and it served as the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement and where jazz music really got its start. This documentary tells the story of that neighborhood through interviews that explore its legacy. People who want to learn about Black History, the roots of jazz, civil rights, and sociology need to add this to their watch list.

THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON (2017)

Directed by award-winning documentarian David France, this Netflix film investigates the 1992 death of transgender activist and trailblazer Marsha P. Johnson (pictured above), who was found floating in the Hudson River. Originally ruled a suicide, many believe she was murdered. If you thought the fight for LGBTQ+ rights was over, this documentary will remind you that we’re far from done.  

DA 5 BLOODS (2020)

Another movie that isn’t technically a documentary but is still based on true events, this Netflix film delves into the minds of four Black soldiers who fought in the Vietnam war during a time when their people were actively being oppressed back home. Weaving social commentary and hard-hitting emotions together, this Spike Lee movie will make you reexamine what you might have learned about Vietnam in your U.S. history class.

STEP (2017)

Heartfelt and moving, this documentary takes you through the senior year of an all-girls step team in inner-city Baltimore as they try to become first-generation college students. With obstacles and social unrest in their path, the girls attempt to succeed in dancing. Viewers will find themselves emotional and touched by this celebration of Black womanhood.

THROUGH A LENS DARKLY: BLACK PHOTOGRAPHERS AND THE EMERGENCE OF A PEOPLE (2014)

What would the story of Black history look like in America if we actually got to see photos that have been suppressed, lost, or forgotten? Through a Lens Darkly poses that question and, by using powerful pictures you’ve probably never seen before, explores photography’s role in shaping the identity and social emergence of Black people. While you watch, you’ll reflect on how important photography is in telling history but also how it’s tied to racism and what it would mean to capture Blackness in all its glory.

TEACH US ALL (2017)

This Netflix film is all about the current state of the U.S. education system and why schools still feel so segregated despite Brown v. Board of Education. Also acting as a social campaign, the film emphasizes the need for collective action to rectify the educational disparities between American children. It’ll make you think about how far we’ve actually come (or not) in the 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education and where we go from here. 

Plays often make their way from the stage to the screen.  Here are some of our favorites and how to watch them:

A RAISIN IN THE SUN

Debuting on Broadway in 1959, Lorraine Hansberry’s story tells of a Black family’s experiences in south Chicago, as they attempt to improve their circumstances following the death of the father. The original Broadway production was nominated for four Tony Awards, and has since spawned two films, a Broadway musical (the Tony Award winning Raisin), two Broadway revivals and a host of other productions. 

Watch the original film with Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Louis Gossett, Jr. on Amazon.

A SOLDIER’S PLAY

Taking place at United States Army's Fort Neal, Louisiana, in 1944 during the time when the military was racially segregated, A Soldier’s Play uses a murder mystery to explore the complicated feelings of anger and resentment that some African Americans have toward one another, as well as the ways in which many black Americans have absorbed white racist attitudes. Playwright Charles Fuller won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this work. The 2020 Broadway revival, closed due to Covid, is currently nominated for 7 Tony Awards. The 1948 film, adapted by Fuller, was nominated for three Academy Awards.

Watch the film, staring Denzel Washington and Howard E. Rollins, Jr. on Amazon

AMERICAN SON

Playwright Christopher Demos-Brown’s play is a gripping tale as an estranged interracial couple awaits news of their missing teenage son. The movie, adapted from the play, stars Kerry Washington.

Watch it now on Netflix.

FENCES

The winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and 1987 Tony Award for Best Play, August Wilson’s Fences explores the evolving African American experience focusing on a working class father in the 1950’s as he tried to raise his family while coming to terms with the events of his life.  A film adaption directed by Denzel Washington and starring Washington and Viola Davis was released in 2016. Both Washington and Davis also starred in the 2010 Broadway revival. 

Watch it now on Amazon Prime.  

FOR COLORED GIRLS

Tyler Perry's 2010 American drama is adapted from Ntozake Shange's 1975 original choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. The original, Shange’s first and most acclaimed theatre piece, is a series of 20 separate poems choreographed to music that weaves interconnected stories of love, empowerment, struggle and loss. The film's cast includes Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Thandie Newton, Loretta Devine, Anika Noni Rose, Tessa Thompson, Kimberly Elise, Kerry Washington, and Macy Gray.

Watch it now on Netflix.

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM

August Wilson’s 1982 play won a 1984 New York Drama Critics’ Circle award and garnered a Tony Nomination for best play. Tensions and temperatures rise at a Chicago music studio in 1927 when fiery, fearless blues singer Ma Rainey joins her band for a recording session. The film adaption for Netflix, directed by George C. Wolfe, stars Viola Davis, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts and was Chadwick Boseman’s final (and spectacular) performance.

Watch it now on Netflix

THURGOOD

Based on the one-man play and told in the first person by Laurence Fishburne, this film brings to life turning points in the life and career of civil rights pioneer Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Watch it now on Amazon.

TWLIGHT, LOS ANGELES

This one woman play written and originally performed by Anna Deavere Smith is composed of a series of monologues by real people connected directly and indirectly to the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Considered a good example of the genre of verbatim theatre, this is a form of documented theatre in which plays are constructed from the precise words spoken by people interviewed about a particular event or topic. Twilight, Los Angeles was nominated in 1994 for a Tony Award for Best Play and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show.

Watch it now on PBS.org.

 

MEET M. CHARLENE STEVENS

CLICK HERE TO READ HER FORBES ARTICLE

The editor-in-chief and founder of Arcade Project has a goal, “to make the art world a little less exclusive.”

VISIT ARCADEPROJECT.COM

Founded by M. Charlene Stevens in 2016, Arcade Project began as a digital publication focused on contemporary fine art and its cultural context. For four years, the organization has functioned primarily as an online platform for discovery – featuring exhibition reviews, artist interviews, art fair highlights, film criticism, and the occasional editorial piece. Our focus is on bolstering emerging and underrepresented talent that has been overlooked by the rest of the art world.

CALIFORNIA LITE (ARCADE PROJECT EXHIBIT)

California Lite presents the Golden State as seen through the eyes of twenty-six artists. California has a wide range of environments and climates, each with its own sense of light. Working in a variety of media, these artists reflect the dramatic, golden, or hazy light that they see in their daily lives or imagine in their fantasies. Curated by Julie Rico who sat on the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts and the Laguna Art Museum boards. Visit here.

 

Start them young!  Here are some family friendly books that celebrate black stories and history:

FULL, FULL, FULL OF LOVE by TRISH COOKE & PAUL HOWARD

For the youngest member of an exuberant extended family, Sunday dinner at Grannie’s can be full indeed — full of hugs and kisses, full of tasty dishes, full to the brim with happy faces, and full, full, full of love. With a special focus on the bond between little Jay Jay and his grannie, Trish Cooke introduces us to a gregarious family we are sure to want more, more, more of.

ANTIRACIST BABY by IBRAM X. KENDI & ASHLEY LUKASHEVSKY

Featured in its own episode in the Netflix original show Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices!

Featured on Good Morning America, NPR's Morning Edition, CBS This Morning, and more!

From the National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist comes a fresh new board book that empowers parents and children to uproot racism in our society and in ourselves. Take your first steps with Antiracist Baby! Or rather, follow Antiracist Baby's nine easy steps for building a more equitable world. With bold art and thoughtful yet playful text, Antiracist Baby introduces the youngest readers and the grown-ups in their lives to the concept and power of antiracism. Providing the language necessary to begin critical conversations at the earliest age, Antiracist Baby is the perfect gift for readers of all ages dedicated to forming a just society.

AMBITIOUS GIRL by MEENA HARRIS & MARISSA VALDEZ

INSTANT #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! INSTANT #1 INDIEBOUND BESTSELLER!

Anyone who's ever been underestimated or overshadowed will find inspiration in this empowering new picture book from Meena Harris, New York Times-bestselling author of Kamala and Maya's Big Idea. When a young girl sees a strong woman on TV labeled as "too assertive" and "too ambitious," it sends her on a journey of discovery through past, present, and future about the challenges faced by women and girls and the ways in which they can reframe, redefine, and reclaim words meant to knock them down.

As Ambitious Girl says:

No "too that" or "too this" will stop what's inside us from flowering.

ROSA PARKS (LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG DREAMS) by LISABETH KAISER & MARTO ANTELO

In this book from the highly acclaimed Little People, BIG DREAMS series, discover the incredible life of Rosa Parks, the "Mother of the Freedom Movement."    

SULWE by LUPITA NYONG'O & VASHTI HARRISON

A New York Times bestseller!

Featured in its own episode in the Netflix original show Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices!

Recipient of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award

Recipient of an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Literary Work

From Academy Award–winning actress Lupita Nyong’o comes a powerful, moving picture book about colorism, self-esteem, and learning that true beauty comes from within. Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything. In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.

I AM: GOD'S AFFIRMATIONS FOR LITTLE GIRLS by BELINA N. MAYS

Book Excellence Award Finalist

"I Am, God's Affirmations for Little Girls" teaches young girls about God's affirmations of beauty, intelligence, and strength. This reflection of God's truth includes memory versus paired with empowering poetry and breath-taking illustrations to help elementary aged girls build the confidence and courage to live by God's standards. After reading this book girls will feel loved, empowered, and encouraged to build a solid educational and spiritual foundation rooted in God's truth.

 

Laguna Playhouse wishes to thank the artists that have shown their support during the pandemic by participating in the Keeping Live Theatre Alive Celebrity Reads program. To see these wonderful vignettes, please click here.