“Paradise Square,” a new musical that explores race relations in 19th-century New York, plans to open on Broadway next winter, making it the first previously unscheduled musical to step forward since the pandemic began.
The show, which has been reworked and in development for a decade, is about a long-gone slum in Lower Manhattan, Five Points, where, during the runup to the Civil War, free Black residents and Irish immigrants coexisted until the draft riots of 1863.
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Not only about the history of New York City, the musical is also about the history of music and dance. It features songs by Stephen Foster, a prominent 19th-century U.S. songwriter who spent time toward the end of his life in Five Points, and it credits the Five Points community with a role in the origins of tap dance. (Tap is a U.S. dance form that is generally understood to have roots in the British Isles and Africa; it has a complex and murky history, but the dancing cellars of the Five Points were an important site of development for the form.)
“Paradise Square” is a comeback bid by a storied Canadian producer, Garth Drabinsky, who won three Tony Awards in the 1990s but then was convicted of fraud. He served time in a Canadian prison; charges in the United States were later dismissed.
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The musical is to star Joaquina Kalukango, a Tony nominee for “Slave Play,” as the proprietor of the saloon in which much of the action takes place. Other cast members include Chilina Kennedy (“Beautiful”), John Dossett (a Tony nominee for “Gypsy”), Sidney DuPont (“Beautiful”), A.J. Shively (“Bright Star”), Nathaniel Stampley (“The Color Purple”), Gabrielle McClinton (“Pippin”), Jacob Fishel (“Fiddler on the Roof”) and Kevin Dennis.
The Broadway run is scheduled to begin previews Feb. 22 and to open March 20 at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. Before the pandemic, the plan was to capitalize the musical for up to $13.5 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission; a spokesman said the actual capitalization will probably be somewhat less.
The show has a complex production history and an evolving creative team, led by the director Moisés Kaufman (best known as the creator of “The Laramie Project”) and the choreographer Bill T. Jones (a two-time Tony winner, for “Fela!” and “Spring Awakening”). It is based on a musical called “Hard Times,” which was conceived by Larry Kirwan, the lead singer of Black 47, and staged at the Cell Theater in 2012. Then, as “Paradise Square,” it had a production at Berkeley Repertory Theater in 2019, and this fall, before transferring to Broadway, it is scheduled to have a five-week run at the James M. Nederlander Theater in Chicago.
The book is now credited to four writers: Kirwan and three playwrights, Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley and Craig Lucas. The score, which includes original songs as well as some attributed to Foster, now has three writers: Jason Howland, Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare.
Kaufman said the interruption of the pandemic provided the creative team “an opportunity to think.”
“At Berkeley, we learned that our story is epic, but we needed to continue focusing on our individual characters,” he said. “And that’s the work that’s occurred.”
(Author: Michael Paulson)/(c.2021 The New York Times Company)