Celebrate Black History Month with a thought-provoking and enlightening list of plays and musicals that pay homage to the rich tapestry of African American history, culture, and achievements. Dive into powerful narratives that chronicle the struggles and triumphs of individuals who have shaped the course of history, from the Civil Rights Movement to contemporary voices advocating for change.
Centering on Black playwrights of the past, present, and future: they are setting the rules, defying expectations, and changing the face of theatre for good. This pack of five plays includes titles by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Lynn Nottage, and more!
Winner of the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2023 Tony Award® Winner for Best Revival – Play
The Story: A darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity is Suzan-Lori Parks’ latest riff on the way we are defined by history. The play tells the story of Lincoln and Booth, two brothers whose names were given to them as a joke, foretelling a lifetime of sibling rivalry and resentment. Haunted by the past, the brothers are forced to confront the shattering reality of their future.
The Story: When shit goes down, your girls show up. Waking up to a shocking and personal health scare, Octavia and her best friends, June and Imani, go on a crusade to find intimacy and joy in a world that could give a fuck less about them or their feelings. This 24-hour blitz explores what it is to be a queer blk woman in 2015 New York, how we survive and save ourselves from ourselves.
Merry Wives by
The Story: Set in South Harlem, amidst a vibrant and eclectic community of West African immigrants, Merry Wives is a New York story about tricks of the heart. A raucous spinoff featuring the Bard’s most beloved comic characters, this hilarious farce tells the story of the trickster Falstaff and the wily wives who outwit him in a celebration of Black joy, laughter, and vitality.
The Meeting by
The Story: Fascinating and dramatically compelling, this eloquent play depicts the supposed meeting of two of the most important men of modern times: Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Differing in their philosophies, but alike in their mutual respect, the two men debate their varying approaches to the same grave social problems, both prepared to die for their beliefs but neither aware of how soon their assassins’ bullets would await them.
The Mountaintop by Katori Hall
The Story: A gripping reimagination of events the night before the assassination of the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On April 3, 1968, after delivering one of his most memorable speeches, an exhausted Dr. King retires to his room at the Lorraine Motel while a storm rages outside. When a mysterious stranger arrives with some surprising news, King is forced to confront his destiny and his legacy to his people.
The Story: Dawn breaks in Brooklyn, and seven black men rise to meet the day. One of them, a finance director, leaves his luxurious condo to jog around their rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, just as a grocery-store clerk is starting another soul-crushing shift. At the bus stop, two best friends debate the intricacies of modern dating, while a basketball coach at the youth center grapples with his unrealized potential. At the hospital, a teacher and his father-in-law welcome a new life. And at the barbershop, the whole group meets for cuts and conversation as sparks fly over questions of identity and community. Through the storytelling style of SLAM Narrative, Thoughts of a Colored Man celebrates the hopes, ambitions, joys, and triumphs of black men in a world that often refuses to hear them.
Now Let Me Fly by Marcia Cebulska
The Story: It is 1950 and Thurgood Marshall wants to fly in the face of tradition and overthrow the Supreme Court doctrine of “Separate But Equal.” But when the ghost of his mentor, Charles Houston, visits him, he is stricken with doubt. Houston takes Marshall on a journey to look in on the lives and losses of those working in the grassroots struggle against legalized segregation. Based on hundreds of oral histories and personal interviews, Now Let Me Fly tells the story of the unsung heroes and heroines in the battle for civil rights.
The Story: As described in the Boston Herald Traveler: “The drama was woven around a young girl, played by Abbey Lincoln, befriended by an artist looking for a model of a grass-roots woman, ignorant and unattractive, for his triptych. It opens amidst Negro riots that have burned the girl out of her apartment and Abbey gets off a few cracks that hit home when the artist and his friends haul out the Afro-American bit by crying, ‘The Afro-Americans burnt down my home. They holler ‘Whitey’ but who did they burn down—me!’ There were many poignant moments as the two were magnetically drawn together and pushed apart. Abbey’s fear of falling in love with the artist, his desire to hold her there only long enough to paint her for his triptych, her disillusionment when she finds out, from Old Timer, one of the neighborhood’s characters, that he wants a woman who’s ugly and ignorant for his model. What WINE IN THE WILDERNESS captured was the turmoil the blacks feel, the pretenses they assume—like wearing straight-haired wigs—the looting of their own people in a riot—something Old Timer rationalized in a humorous manner.” But something which, like the other deeply felt revelations in the play, goes directly and surely to the heart of the racial dilemma.
Mlima’s Tale by
The Story: Mlima is a magnificent elephant trapped by the underground international ivory market. As he follows a trail littered by a history of greed, Mlima takes us on a journey through memory, fear, tradition, and the penumbra between want and need.
The Story: Born in 1805 Jamaica, Mary Seacole is determined to live an extraordinary life. As she travels across oceans and centuries, through a Jamaican hospital, a Crimean battlefront, a contemporary nursing home, and everywhere in between, Mary moves through life with Herculean fortitude. But as her brazen spirit meets historical reality, Mary’s world explodes, splitting, multiplying, and redefining her narrative. Based on the life of the famous nurse and entrepreneur, Marys Seacole is an examination of what it means to be a woman paid to care.
Winner of a 2019 Obie Awards for Playwriting
The Story: In early nineteenth-century New Orleans, a widowed mother, Beartrice, struggles to manage her headstrong daughters after the death of her second husband. But as the matriarch takes her place as head of the household, a more ominous transfer of power transpires in the region. The French-owned Louisiana Territory is about to be acquired by the United States, threatening the liberty of the free African-Americans residing on the land. A gripping examination of intersecting captivities, The House That Will Not Stand follows four women in mourning as they look ahead to an uncertain and haunting future.
The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years by
The Story: In the winter of 1964, ten years after the Montgomery bus boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is planning a massive voter registration drive that promises to put the city back at the center of the Civil Rights Movement. Among those watching closely is Grace Dunbar, pillar of Montgomery’s African-American aristocrats and doyenne of the Nacirema Society, an organization poised to celebrate its 100th anniversary by presenting an exclusive group of debutantes at their annual cotillion. Assisting Grace is her lifelong friend, Catherine, who hopes the cotillion will prompt her grandson to propose to Grace’s granddaughter. Of course, neither woman considers the fact that their grandchildren have their own plans. The anticipation is overshadowed by the arrival of Alpha Campbell, daughter of the Dunbar family’s late maid. Alpha has plans to blackmail the Dunbars into financing her own daughter’s education. But Alpha’s story is closer to the truth than anyone could have imagined, and Alpha is surprised. So is Janet Logan, a visiting reporter from The New York Times who finds herself in the middle of a story that Grace will do anything to suppress.
The Story: Can rivaling sisters Baneatta and Beverly bury their father without killing each other? This proves difficult when Beverly shows up to the chapel with her “blessings” on display. Meanwhile, Baneatta’s son brings his neurotic Jewish boyfriend along, knowing Baneatta disapproves, and Beverly’s nosy daughter keeps asking questions no one wants to answer. Baneatta’s pastor husband tries to mediate the family drama, but when a shocking family secret reveals itself at the pulpit, the two sisters are faced with a truth that could either heal or break them.
The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin by Kirsten Childs
The Story: What’s a Black girl from sunny Southern California to do? White people are blowing up Black girls in Birmingham churches. Black people are shouting “Black is beautiful” while straightening their hair and coveting light skin. Viveca Stanton’s answer: Slap on a bubbly smile and be as white as you can be! In a humorous and pointed coming-of-age story spanning the 60s through the 90s, Viveca blithely sails through the confusing worlds of racism, sexism, and Broadway showbiz until she’s forced to face the devastating effects of self-denial.
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary, Des McAnuff, songs by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara
The Story: She was a girl from Boston with a voice from heaven, who shot through the stars from gospel choir to dance floor diva. But what the world didn’t know was how Donna Summer risked it all to break through barriers, becoming the icon of an era and the inspiration for every music diva who followed. Spend the night with Donna in her electrifying universe.
After Midnight by Jack Viertel
The Story: Welcome back to that electrifying time when Harlem’s Cotton Club was the place to be. Winner of the 2014 Tony®, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Astaire Awards for Best Choreography, After Midnight is the smash-hit musical that celebrates Duke Ellington’s years at the famed club. Combining the big-band songs of Duke Ellington, Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields and Harold Arlen, this musical revue is framed by the poetry of Langston Hughes.
Crowns by Regina Taylor, adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry
The Story: A moving and celebratory musical play in which hats become a springboard for an exploration of black history and identity as seen through the eyes of a young black woman who has come down South to stay with her aunt after her brother is killed in Brooklyn. Hats are everywhere, in exquisite variety, and the characters use the hats to tell tales concerning everything from the etiquette of hats to their historical and contemporary social functioning. There is a hat for every occasion, from flirting to churchgoing to funerals to baptisms, and the tradition of hats is traced back to African rituals and slavery and forward to the New Testament and current fashion. Some rap but predominantly gospel music and dance underscore and support the narratives. The conclusion finds the standoffish young woman, whose cultural identity as a young black Brooklyn woman has been so at odds with the more traditional and older Southern blacks, embracing hats and their cultural significance as a part of her own fiercely independent identity.
The Story: The Colored Museum has electrified, discomforted, and delighted audiences of all colors, redefining our ideas of what it means to be black in contemporary America. Its eleven “exhibits” undermine black stereotypes old and new and return to the facts of what being black means.
Broadbend, Arkansas book & lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh, Harrison David Rivers, music & additional lyrics Ted Shen
The Story: A Black family grapples with decades of inequality, violence, and suppression in the South. Benny, an orderly at a nursing home, delicately balances his role as a caregiver to an ornery white resident who shares a contentious past with his white boss, while at the same time caring for his own family as the fight for equality grips the nation in the midst of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Twenty-seven years later, his daughter, Ruby, struggles to understand an incident of police brutality against her 15-year-old son. This unique musical, spanning three decades and three generations, asks us to contemplate the cycle of violence in this country and how we will find hope and create change against the backdrop of hate that plagues America.
Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical by Melvin Tunstall, III, Douglas Lyons, Greg Borowsky
The Story: Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical follows 8-year-old Lily Polkadot who just moved to the “Squares Only” small town of Rockaway. As the first Polkadot in an all Square school, Lily faces an almost impossible task of gaining acceptance from her peers. From daily bullying to segregated drinking fountains, Lily’s quest seems hopeless until she meets Sky, a shy Square boy whose curiosity for her unique polkadot skin blooms into an unexpected pal-ship. Inspired by the events of The Little Rock 9, Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical serves as a colorful history lesson for children, reminding them that our individual differences make us awesome, not outcasts.
Passing Strange book, music & lyrics by Stew, music by Heidi Rodewald
The Story: From singer-songwriter and performance artist Stew comes PASSING STRANGE, a daring musical that takes you on a journey across boundaries of place, identity and theatrical convention. Stew brings us the story of a young bohemian who charts a course for “the real” through sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Loaded with soulful lyrics and overflowing with passion, the show takes us from black middle-class America to Amsterdam, Berlin and beyond on a journey towards personal and artistic authenticity.