Musical theater describes a style of drama which involves acting and singing. Before dramas were televised they were performed at playhouses. The epitome of success for a play was for it to be performed at Broadway. Black musical theater first emerged as minstrel shows. The first full length production written and played by Blacks on Broadway was titled In Dahomey. In Dahomey was written by playwright Paul Lawrence Dunbar in 1902. The play followed two Bostonian men who found a pot of gold and planned to move to Africa and colonize Dahomey which is present day Benin. The production was a minstrel show but prior to that Black people were not even seen as worthy or capable enough to be deemed playwrights. This was revolutionary, although ignorant, showcasing a Black playwright served as the first step in Black people controlling our own narrative.
As time passed more and more Black playwrights emerged and more Black productions were put on display for a large audience. Other popular examples of Black Musical Theater are the Wiz, Fela, Jelly’s last Jam, Showboat, and The Color Purple. Below is a snippet from the musical FELA! produced by Jay Z and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith in 2008.
The following are playbills and candids from the other plays mentioned, Jelly’s last Jam, Showboat, and The Color Purple.