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Dean's Theater Reviews: Paradise Square +

by Dean Richards
November 28, 2021

“Before the pandemic, it wasn't uncommon for shows to come to Chicago before they opened in New York. Now, for the first time in almost two years, the pre-Broadway tryout has returned. This time it's the Civil War musical Paradise Square. But instead of it being set on the battlefields of the South, the battle here is set in New York City in one neighborhood called Five Points, where free born Black people who escaped slavery live peacefully with the Irish immigrants who have come to America to escape the Great Famine.

It’s a story of racial harmony that begins to unravel, turning to hate between the races with the tragedy of war and growing unemployment for all centered around a saloon and a safe haven for many called Paradise Square.

It's an incredible story that often becomes poignant for its many comparisons to the same social problems that we face today, but it’s also very touching and full of hope and life, both through its strong performances and razor-sharp dance numbers from both sides of the ethnic and racial aisle.

A highlight of the show is actress Joaquina Kalukango, recently nominated for a Tony Award for Slave Play, whose passion but mostly her stunning voice will send shivers down your spine. Paradise Square is in Chicago for only another week before it heads to New York. I'm recommending this powerful show at the Nederlander Theatre, only until December 5th.”

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Cast, direction carry musical celebration of 1863 Manhattan's Five Points +

by Jeffrey Nelson
November 28, 2021

“Paradise Square” is a vibrant new musical getting its final form at Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre as it heads to Broadway.

The name refers to a saloon in a neighborhood of the New York City borough of Manhattan known in the 19th century as Five Points.

“Paradise Square” is musical theater that is history, and the focus is the summer of 1863. That summer, the delicate harmony of this multi-ethnic neighborhood is threatened by the U.S. government’s first military draft.

Celebrating Five Points with a musical is quite fitting, as this generally poor part of lower Manhattan had a reputation for dance halls that featured wild and innovative dancing and multi-ethnic music. Historians have traced the origin of tap dancing to Five Points music halls and dance halls.

And yet, this area was regarded for years as one of the worst slums in New York City and a center of crime and cesspool of disease and drunkenness.

The songs of Jason Howland, Nathan Tysen, Masi Asare and Larry Kirwan celebrate the rich multi-ethnic culture of Five Points, and a little history enhances the music here as adaptations of Stephen Foster songs are used around the actual character of that songwriter, who appears as a pianist working at Paradise Square.

Note here: He did live in the nearby Bowery during this Civil War era, but there is no record of him working in such saloons as Paradise Square. The only record of Foster spending time in Five Points is an arraignment he had with a German grocer.

“Paradise Square” is anchored in the history of lower Manhattan (the area today is Chinatown and Columbus Park) and the Civil War.

The four credited book authors, Larry Kirwan, Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley and Craig Lucas, create a strong blending of dramatic personal stories with history.

There are some historical slips, and some of the narrative gets a bit cluttered in the first act. But the story that unfolds on stage is generally compelling, and the reason it survives the book’s modest flaws is the cast and direction.

The talent level of this cast would make any director jealous. If half of directing is casting, director Moises Kaufman is an overachiever.

This cast is nothing less than superlative at every level, and Kaufman pulls every ounce of talent from this outstanding ensemble.

Joaquin Kalukango as the proprietress of Paradise Square is simply brilliant, whether she is belting one of the many powerful and tuneful songs she performs or simply performing her character.

Chilina Kennedy, A.J. Shivley, Sidney Dupont and Nathaniel Stampley add their own standout performances to this stellar ensemble.

Special mention here must go to choreographer Bill T. Jones. Perhaps the most viscerally exciting moments of “Paradise Square” are the dance numbers. They are somewhat derived from historic descriptions of the exciting dance hall evenings Five Points was renowned for.

But, Jones has added many modern touches of contemporary dance virtuosity and sheer athleticism. The result is a series of dance numbers that are not only moving parts of the text, but among the most memorable choreographed moments you are likely to see in professional theater.

“Paradise Square” will continue its run at the James T. Nederlander Theatre at 24 W. Randolph St. in Chicago’s Loop until Dec. 5. It will open on Broadway on March 20, 2022, at the Barrymore Theatre.

For further information, go to broadwayinchicago.com.

"Paradise Square" Touches the Soul +

by Bonnie DeShong
November 23, 2021

It’s 1863, Lincoln is President, and the Civil War is raging. Slavery is strong in the South and in the North, more Blacks are being born into freedom but are still at the bottom of the ladder along with the Irish Immigrants who left Ireland to escape the famine. The Irish and Blacks got along and lived together in the Community of Five Points. Naturally, some would fall in love with each other not worried about Race mixing but sharing the love of family.

One such couple is a freeborn Black woman named Nelly Freeman O’Brian and her Irish husband Willie O’Brian. Nelly owns the saloon in Five Points called Paradise Square, a place where all can come and drink, get a little pleasure and relaxation, and dance. Harmony only lasts so long before something or someone lights the spark of discontent. This comes when a draft is put into place where all the immigrant Irishmen must report to be drafted into the Union Army, however, “Coloreds” are not allowed to fight even though they are more than willing to go. The rich whites that live uptown fan this flame and it leads to the Civil War Draft Riots of 1863 as the Irishman take their rage out on the Black residents with as many as 1200 dying and most of the community burned to the ground.

Sounds depressing? No, it is a look into history that isn’t too far from the actions of today.

I was in the opening night audience and found that there is so much more to this production than I realized. The cast is one of the most amazing I have seen in a long while. Going to as many plays as I do, sometimes it feels as if I am just watching the action on a stage. Paradise Square’s energy leaves the stage and surrounds the audience in such a way that you feel a part of the story and not an onlooker.

One of the reasons for that is Tony Awardee nominee Joaquina Kalukango.

From the time she steps on the stage to the curtain call, you are in the palm of her hand. Her voice and interpretation of the songs and dialogue are the souls of the production. I think the co-star of the production is the Irish Step Dancing and the African Juba (a form of dance that led to tap dancing) choreographed by renowned Bill T. Jones. If you don’t know him Google him. You need to know who he is. The beauty of both forms of dance tells a story with each step and arm movement. The dance competition between the two groups have you moving in your seat and tapping your feet.

When Nelly sings “Let it Burn” tears sprang to my eyes and chills ran through my body. I and everyone in the audience jumped to our feet as if we were pulled by an invisible force. I have never felt anything like it.

I can’t close out this review until I mention Chilina Kennedy who plays Nelly’s sister-in-law Annie Lewis. Her spunkiness and fire are just the right touches to show the love and determination of these two women, one Black and one Irish, and both so much the same.

”Paradise Square” touched the soul of the audience. The energy and poetry of the dancing, the passion of the story, and the power of the songs and voices bought us to our feet in understanding.

The production is only at the Nederlander Theatre through December 5th. It is a production you do not want to miss.

Lush new musical ‘Paradise Square’ creates rich world drawn from many cultures +

Powerful music, meaningful dances contribute to the emotionally intricate storytelling, set in 1863 Manhattan.
by Catey Sullivan
November 18, 2021

Before its scheduled March opening on Broadway, “Paradise Square” has a bit of revising to do. A very small bit.

Conceived by Larry Kirwan, directed by Moises Kaufman and running only through Dec. 5 at the Loop’s Nederlander Theatre, the new musical is shaped by visually lush, emotionally intricate storytelling largely created through Bill T. Jones’ vivid choreography and Jason Howland’s gripping score. Both music and movement effectively draw on influences from Africa to Ireland, including the U.S.A. of 1863 and 2021. The artistry spans the globe and plumbs the centuries in creating the world of Lower Manhattan’s impoverished, racially mixed Five Points neighborhood in the thick of the Civil War.

‘Paradise Square’: 4 out of 4

When: Through Dec. 5
Where: James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph
Tickets: $60 – $116.50
Run time: 2 hours, 35 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission
Info: (800) 775-2000, www.BroadwayInChicago.com

Remembered mostly as a slum, Five Points was also a comparatively integrated place, the musical tells us. The riots of 1863 showed how fragile the neighborhood was. The rioters were primarily poor white immigrants who first burned government buildings and then Black-owned businesses in protest of unemployment and President Lincoln’s recently instituted draft.

At one point, the spotlight goes fully to Nelly O’Brien (Joaquina Kalukango), the daughter of enslaved parents and owner of Five Points’ Paradise Square bar. She tells the audience that living in Five Points was like living in a future you’d never think could be realized. (That’s a paraphrase). There’s pride and prescience in the words, intersected with tragedy and optimism.

“Paradise Square” has a lot of plot to cover before the riots. We learn Nelly married Willie O’Brien (Matt Bogart), a white man enlisted to fight the south. Willie’s (white) sister Annie Lewis (Chilina Kennedy) helps at Nelly’s bar and is married to the Rev. Samuel Jacob Lewis (Nathaniel Stampley), a free Black Abolitionist Protestant.

Complications pile on: Annie’s fresh-off-the-boat Irish nephew Owen Duignan (A.J. Shively) arrives at Nelly’s needing a room at the same time as Washington Henry (Sidney DuPont), newly escaped from a plantation and separated from his beloved Angelina Baker (Gabrielle McClinton). Finally, there’s Lucky Mike Quinlan (Kevin Dennis), a white Irishman back from the war and increasingly embittered when he’s unable to find work.

Evil politico Frediric Tiggens (John Dossett) is one-note, but it’s not an inaccurate note and it doesn’t stop the production from laying bare one of the world’s greatest magic tricks: Convincing people that their allies are their enemies because of their skin color. Dossett’s message is that the only way to get your piece of the American Dream, in this version, is to kill the roots instead of trimming the branches that stopped blooming long ago.

Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare’s lyrics capture sweeping issues and personal dilemmas alike, even when the book (by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Kirwan) is overshadowed by projection designer Wendall K. Harrington’s yellow-journalism-tinged newspaper clippings. Of larger importance than an over-reliance on projection design: “Paradise Square” shows how wealthy white Yankees used race to instigate and fan racial tension. Fear is a slick, effective conduit to hatred, and “Paradise Square” shows precisely how it becomes weaponization via a grooming process thick with misinformation. It’s impossible miss the fact that the same dynamic still thrives.

In the final third of the two-hour-and-35-minute staging, the telling part of storytelling headlines of fires, riots, unemployment and the draft dwarves the actors. Still, there’s not a significantly clunky scene as the plot plays out on set designer Allen Moyer’s “Hamilton”-meets-“West Side Story” flexible scaffolding. The music and the lyrics cover the ground like rain, the story flourishing in Jones’ collaborative dances (Garrett Coleman and Jason Oremus are credited with Irish and Hammerstep choreo).

The score includes scorching anthems (“Burn”) and reclaimed Stephen Foster minstrels (“Oh! Susanna”), taken back to their origins among the enslaved of the American South, all while white bar pianist Milton Moore (Jacob Fishel) is moving to monetize them for himself. From ballad (the incandescent “Breathe Easy”) to uptempo banger (“Ring, Ring the Bango”) the score doesn’t have a weak number. In all, it’s a rich, relevant world inside an outlier bar in the eye of a maelstrom, star turns by Kalukango and DuPont at its center. It’s also a production that deserves an audience that will cheer for it, loudly.

‘Paradise Square’ Does a Fierce and Timely Dance Into a Civil War Era Racial Uprising +

by Hedy Weiss
November 19, 2021

The time is the summer of 1863, midway through the Civil War. The place is the Five Points neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a slum-ridden neighborhood where impoverished Irish immigrants who fled the famine back home intermingle with freeborn Blacks, as well as slaves who have managed to escape from Southern plantations but are still being pursued. But amid that poverty and disenfranchisement there is a saloon, owned and operated by Nelly O’Brien, an indomitable Black woman married to a white man who is off fighting in the Union army.

Nelly’s saloon – something of an anomaly in many ways – is called Paradise Square. And it welcomes both the Irish and Blacks of the neighborhood, both of whom can dance up a storm, and in a few cases intermarry. But if there is a joyful spirit of competition and mutual support at work in the bar, it is, not surprisingly, short-lived. For while Black men are forbidden to serve in the Union Army, poor working-class white men are suddenly subjected to a draft. And issues triggered by the bitter competition for jobs is exploited by manipulative white political bosses who serve the wealthy “uptown” crowd and intensify the highly destructive racial tension that will upend one brief moment of coexistence.

And there you have the essential elements of “Paradise Square,” the grand-scale musical brought to life by a cast of megawatt talents. Conceived (and long in development) by Larry Kirwan, the show, which has now arrived at the Nederlander Theatre for a pre-Broadway Chicago tryout, in many ways feels like a prequel to “Ragtime,” another musical epic about race, class, and the fractured nature of the American dream. (And while it is the creation of an entirely different artistic team, it comes by way of the same producer, Garth Drabinsky).

Directed by Moises Kaufman (with musical staging by Alex Sanchez), it is fueled by a fervent (and at moments semi-operatic) score, with music by Jason Howland and fiery lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare. Its book, by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Kirwan, could use some tightening.

What really blows this show out of the park is its knockout dancing, and the brilliant choreography by Bill T. Jones that in many ways is more potent than any spoken dialogue as it sets the phenomenal rhythms and moves of both Irish step dancing and African juba into a brilliant competition that reveals the genius of both “languages.” While the dance speaks volumes at every turn in this show, the driving historical events that fuel its crucial drama (and that might not be widely known at all), take too long to emerge. In brief: Blacks were not permitted to serve in the Union Army until late in July of 1862 when President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (which he had feared would alienate those in the “border states” and drive them to secede). Meanwhile, as the working-class white men who managed to return from the front sought jobs they resented the fact that many of those jobs were being given to Black men. And New York politicians, hungry for the votes of Irish (and other) immigrants, stirred up that resentment which was further fueled by the Draft Act of 1863 that allowed wealthier whites to buy their way out of military service. The fallout came in the form of massive riots that claimed many lives and caused immense destruction during what became known as the New York Draft Riots. (The show’s penultimate song, “Let It Burn” – though far from a constructive healing solution to this country’s enduring problems – nevertheless received a boisterous standing ovation at Wednesday’s opening night performance.)

But now to the characters in this story, and the galvanic performances that bring them to extraordinarily vivid life.

With a powerhouse voice and a personality to match, Joaquina Kalukango plays Nelly O’Brien, a woman who can give as good as she gets. On the one hand, she can provide shelter to the desperate, and on the other, she can fearlessly face off against the corrupt powers that be. Kalukango is a force to reckon with on every count.

And then there are the two pivotal young men in the story who dance up a fabulous competitive storm, and also are exceptional actors and singers. A.J. Shively plays Owen Duignan, the newly arrived Irish immigrant (and gives a transcendent performance of the heart-wrenching song “Why Should I Die in Springtime?”). Sidney DuPont plays Washington Henry, the runaway slave from Tennessee who brings a sense of deepest despair to “Angelina Baker,” the song about his profound fear that his beloved wife (played by Gabrielle McClinton) might never make it to New York. His dancing is phenomenal.

Nathaniel Stampley (an actor who has often worked in Chicago) brings his remarkable, understated aura of quiet authority, dignity and decency to the role of the Rev. Samuel Jacob Lewis, a Black man married to Nelly’s white business partner, Annie Lewis, and who also works as a foreman and must make some very difficult hiring decisions. Annie (played by the witty, golden-voiced Chilina Kennedy) is winningly captured in the couple’s ironically titled song, “Gentle Annie.” (Nelly and Annie memorably bond with the beautiful song “Someone to Love.”)

The show’s “real-life” character is Steven Foster (Jacob Fishel), the fabled American composer of minstrel songs who, in a down-on-his-luck period, assumes the name Milton Moore and convinces Nelly to hire him as her house pianist.

John Dossett brings just the right chilly, anti-abolitionist arrogance to the role of Frederic Tiggens, the New York political boss who stirs up the deadly racial chaos that brings an end to the short-lived racial Eden suggested by the Paradise Square saloon. And there are strong turns by Kevin Dennis and Matt Bogart – both Union Army victims.

Allen Moyer’s steely set and bar interior, with lighting by Donald Holder and costumes by Toni-Leslie James, set the mood.

But again, it is in many ways the dancing that most brilliantly and eloquently captures the connection and disconnection in this story.

By the end of “Paradise Square,” you might find yourself wondering if there will be a couple of musicals that provide epilogues to “Paradise Square” and “Ragtime.” In a strange way “Hair” might fill the space for the 1960s, but a story set in and around 2020 and 2021 is still to be created.

“Paradise Square” runs through Dec. 5 at the Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St.. For tickets, visit broadwayinchicago.com. The show is slated to open on Broadway on March 20, with previews beginning Feb. 22.

Footwork tells the story best in Paradise Square +

A Broadway-bound musical set during the Civil War draft riots calls for community over conflict.
by Irene Hsiao
November 19, 2021

After its 2019 premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Paradise Square, a musical conceived by Larry Kirwan, inspired by the music of Stephen Foster, directed by Moisés Kaufman, and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, has roared into Chicago for a month-long run at the Nederlander Theatre before it heads to Broadway in 2022.

The year is 1863, the place Five Points (“the first slum in America”), a neighborhood in lower Manhattan where Black folks and Irish immigrants lived and worked. As the Civil War rages in the southern states, in Paradise Square, a saloon owned by fierce free-born Black woman Nelly Freeman (Joaquina Kalukango) and co-operated with her feisty Irish sister-in-law Annie Lewis (Chilina Kennedy), life is loud and times are rough, yet humans are mostly peaceful in a place where Black and Irish mingle, dance, and intermarry. (Nelly’s husband is an Irish immigrant captain in the Union army, Annie’s husband a Black protestant reverend—shorthand for the probability that all the sloshes swarming the saloon are somehow someone’s cousin.)

The trouble is the war, or rather, the pressures the leaders of any war place on those who do the fighting: the poor and underprivileged. Here, the Civil War combines issues that remain unresolved a century and a half later: citizenship, race, economic inequality, belonging, the pursuit of happiness, and who exactly has the right to engage in that pursuit. A draft announces that Irish immigrants—who aren’t yet citizens—must enlist. However, Black men who want to fight (and prove their citizenship, which they also don’t yet have) aren’t permitted to join. And anyone who has three hundred dollars—or a year’s pay for the working class—can buy their way out. Thanks to the unfortunate combination of slimy politicians and frustrated, underemployed working-class white men—embodied primarily in the figure of irate Irish immigrant veteran “Lucky” Mike Quinlan (Kevin Dennis), who has lost an arm in the war and now can’t find work—the working classes are made to squabble with each other instead of seeing the wealthy and powerful pulling the strings.

These unjust elements find their story in the characters of fresh-off-the-boat Irish lad Owen Duignan (A. J. Shively) and runaway slave Washington Henry (Sidney DuPont). Owen has come to stay with his aunts Annie and Nelly to escape the Great Famine and make his American fortune. Washington Henry has traveled the Underground Railroad to escape a plantation and create a life of freedom and self-sufficiency with his wife (who is conveniently separated from Washington for most of the journey to keep the foils clean—though there’s a sweet subplot with some singing Black lesbians on a utopian farm/waystation on the Underground).

Both have suffered, both are determined, and both are dependent on the safety of Paradise Square. And by the way, both can dance like there’s a fire on the floor—Owen with the sprightly, high-stepping patterns of the Irish, Washington Henry with the grounded stomp, slap, and roll of African American juba.

To make a long story short and to give us what we’ve been waiting for, the center of Paradise Square is a feis: a dance battle—where one winner will take home a bounty of three hundred dollars: the price of freedom for one man (women can compete, too). But who will it be? Will it be Owen, whose bonny spirit sours in the face of imminent death in a war he has not chosen? Or will it be Washington Henry, who has spent a life downtrodden and never had a breath of liberty yet? Will the angry white men shouting in the streets succeed in inciting a riot in advance of the invention of social media? And who is that drunkard at the piano appropriating songs and stories from the oppressed?

It would all be a bit pedantic if the performances weren’t so spectacular and the reenactments of historic tragedies so painfully contemporary. And yet the singing is blockbuster, the dancing is dazzling, and the reckoning that anyone sitting through this fable must undergo is as sobering as it ought to be. Kalukango is a forceful presence with a powerhouse voice as Nelly, and the rapport with Kennedy as Annie, who can blitz right from a belt to a head voice, is on point, all supported by an ensemble that sometimes splits into factions but ultimately coalesces into a community.

A note on the dancing: Five Points has sometimes been called the birthplace of tap dance, and Bill T. Jones is not exactly known for choreographing in that genre (Garrett Coleman, Jason Oremus, Gelan Lambert, and Chloe Davis are also named as choreographers). But Jones, who has won Tony Awards for Fela! and Spring Awakening, is known for a company and works that illustrate the beautiful possibility of dwelling in harmonious difference—even in the name of the company he cofounded with his deceased (white) partner Arnie Zane. Though the premise of Paradise Square includes competition, the glory of it is in complement, in the delightful joy of seeing dancers and humans juxtaposed in conversation and collaboration.

The Harmony of Discord: A Review of Paradise Square at the James M. Nederlander Theatre +

by Brian Hieggelke
November 17, 2021

It’s far too early to know if this is one for the ages, but no doubt this is the most important musical of our times, drawing from American history to depict the kind of racial harmony we still call aspirational, as well as the path to its destruction.

It’s the story of Paradise Square, an anything-goes saloon in Five Points, New York—”America’s first slum”—set near the middle of the Civil War, at a time when free Blacks and Irish immigrants lived together in harmonious squalor. In fact, the owner of the bar, Nelly O’Brien (Tony Award nominee Joaquina Kalukango), is a Black woman married to an Irishman whose sister, Annie Lewis (Chilina Kennedy), is married to a Black minister, Reverend Samuel Jacob Lewis (Nathaniel Stampley). It’s a sort of interracial utopia from the future, until the war and the conscription that follows create heartache and conflict, eventually leading to the Draft Riots that, according to Wikipedia, “remain the largest civil and most racially charged urban disturbance in American history.”

When the draft comes, the Irish (and other) immigrants who can’t afford to hire a substitute or pay $300—a full year’s wages—won’t be able to avoid the battlefield to fight a war for a country they barely know. But Blacks, who are not considered citizens, are prohibited from service, as much as they might actually want to fight. This sets neighbors against each other, in a microcosm of the conflict of the Civil War itself. Never mind that the real villains were the rich who were able to buy their way out of service under the law.

If you’re a fan of the kind of big, dumb musicals that too often make bank on Broadway, this is not your show. It’s smart, nuanced and jammed with ideas about race, gender, class, immigration, the neglect of veterans, and just about everything else that ails America. “Pretty Woman” this is not.

What it is is a percussive dance wonderland, filled with extraordinary Irish jig, Juba and tap dancers—tap was created in Five Points. There is a kind of playful competition and collaboration throughout that calls to mind the high-school dance in “West Side Story,” if only the Jets and the Sharks were friend rather than foe.

Bill T. Jones’ choreography throughout is exceptional—his depiction of slaves being beaten on a plantation in one scene creates a tableau that is somehow terrifying and beautiful at the same time. He can start making room on his mantel for his third Tony Award right now.

The songs in the first act are far less memorable, except the Stephen A. Foster mashups, modernizations of such songs as “Oh! Susanna” and “Camptown Races” that fuel masterful dances. But the performances from Kalukango, Kennedy and Stampley and their powerful voices turn so-so songs into soaring triumphs anyway. And the two lead dancers—Irish immigrant Owen Duignan (A.J. Shively) and escaped slave Washington Henry (Sidney DuPont), could put on their own show, and do.

Foster’s music—and character—plays a big part in the show, anchoring songs like the poetic “Why Should I Die in Springtime” but also creating a framework for addressing the history of commercial appropriation of Black music for white financial gain and even minstrelsy. Foster moved to Five Points toward the end of his life and was inspired by it. Little wonder, since most great American music innovations originate in the most hardscrabble places, like jazz, blues and hip-hop.

But the show’s not of one mind when it comes to appropriation in artistic creation. In one key dance scene, Washington Henry wows everyone when he incorporates Irish jig into his own footwork. It’s a theatricalization of the creation of tap. That the show has more questions on this topic than answers is appropriate, since the culture at large is still very much grappling with it as well.

The final third of the show, which depicts the riots and their carnage, is its most expository and episodic and my least favorite, for the dancing recedes and so, generally, do the main characters. Overall, the show, while very strong already, can still use a few nips and tucks of songs and scenes to tighten the pacing and amplify the drama.

Still, small touches are nice, such as tableaus where the inactive ensemble members in a scene freeze in pose, as if prepping for a Mathew Brady photograph. And speaking of the ensemble, I can’t remember a musical where the collective voices constructed such a beautiful wall of sound; it brought to mind the Lyric Opera Chorus.

The music in the second act is much stronger, with “Someone to Love ” and “Breathe Easy” making their case for singing-in-the-shower worthy. Two showstopping scenes are the feis dance competition, where the stake is, not coincidentally, $300, and “Let It Burn,” where Kalukango’s voice and all-consuming presence is stunning, of which the audience agreed such that it erupted in a standing ovation that literally stopped the show. Start engraving her Tony, too.

This show has been on a long road of development, as evidenced by the number of writers credited for the book—Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan, the lead singer of Black 47 who planted the seed of this project nearly a decade ago with the predecessor musical, “Hard Times.” But thanks to its all-star cast and creative team, led by three-time Tony Award-winning producer Garth H. Drabinsky, two-time Tony Award-nominated director Moisés Kaufman and two-time Tony Award-winning choreographer Bill T. Jones, it’s off to Broadway this time, after its short Chicago run.

That long road has also, sadly, brought the cultural relevance of the show to the forefront. When one disgruntled character, a wounded Civil War veteran, sings about being “true to a country that wasn’t true to you,” it’s as if the seeds of the disaffection that plagues some of the white working class today are being planted. And when Gabrielle Clinton, playing Washington’s love and fellow escaped slave Angelina Baker, sings the gospel-infused “Breathe Easy,” a song about slavery promising “You will reach freedom someday,” you can’t help but think about the deaths of George Floyd and Eric Garner, two Black men literally suffocated by white oppression. The song will leave you breathless, as will the sadness.

At the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 West Randolph through December 5.

Paradise comes to Chicago! | Behind The Curtain Podcast +

by Paul Lisnek

The long-awaited Paradise Square not only does not disappoint, but it gives Chicago the Return to Broadway feeling we have been awaiting for nearly two years. And what a visit to Paradise it is.

First, the Tony folks might as well engrave the Tony now for Best Choreography to Bill T. Jones and for Set Design to Allen Moyer because it’s hard to imagine any other new show matching what these theater geniuses have created. And while they are at it, just go ahead and get ready to give this year’s 2021 Best Actress in a Musical Award to (2020 Tony Nominee for Best Actress for Slave Play) Joaquina Kalukango for a moving and powerful performance as Nelly O’Brien. Her performance of “Let it Burn” had the audience on their feet for an extended standing ovation that was beyond well-deserved and is guaranteed to become a moment in classic Broadway. You will be humming the opening/closing number “Paradise Square” as it is guaranteed to lock in your brain as an earwig; you and your guests will walk out talking about just how much we as a society still have to learn when it comes to race relations. As the play intimates, harmony among peoples may be a dream for the future…a thought the characters posit in 1863….a moment we continue to wait for in 2022 and beyond. Producer Garth Drabinsky (Showboat, Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman) has created yet another epic show that will live among the ranks of Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Hamilton and other classics of the modern era.

You have until December 5th to see it before it heads to a set February opening on Broadway. You don’t want to miss the experience that Broadway audiences will be raving about for years to come. Chicago gets to experience it first…and after all we’ve been through, we deserve it.

‘Paradise Square’ reveals ‘little bit of Eden’ +

by Paul Lockwood
November 19, 2021

In 1863, the Civil War is still raging. New York City’s Five Points area is the part of Manhattan considered to be the first slum in America. Irish immigrants and escaped or free-born Black Americans are intermingling at a bar where many customers are fugitives, drunks and prostitutes. This is the setting for the new Broadway in Chicago production, “Paradise Square,” and if you’re looking for that next big Tony Award-winning musical before it hits Broadway, head to “Paradise.” It’s that good.

The opening number, which shares its name with the title of the show, quickly introduces us to the main characters:

The Black owner of the bar is Nelly O’Brien (past Tony Award nominee Joaquina Kalukango), whose late father was a slave. According to the lyrics, Paradise Square is “a little bit of Eden” in that part of New York.

Nelly’s Irish husband is Willie (Matt Bogart), captain of the Fighting 69th infantry, who’s ready to head back to war but will definitely miss his wife. Annie Lewis (Chilina Kennedy) is Willie’s sister, who helps Nelly run Paradise Square, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind.

The love of Annie’s life is her Black husband, the Rev. Samuel Jacob Lewis (Nathaniel Stampley), who we soon will find out is willing to assist slaves who’ve made their way to New York via the Underground Railroad.

Kalukango is clearly the star here – she can project to the last Nederlander Theatre balcony row when she’s singing, and there are few performers I’ve seen who can bring an audience to their feet before the end of the show. Kalukango did it with the Act II showstopper, “Let It Burn,” powerfully delivering an emotional message at a climactic moment in the story. Mark my words: Kalukango will get another Tony nomination in 2022 for this performance, and will be a prime contender for the actual award.

Other key characters who propel the plot include: Annie’s nephew, Owen (A.J. Shively), a new immigrant from Ireland whose dance ability ultimately may help him avoid fighting in the war; political boss Frederic Tiggens (John Dossett), who fears that Nelly’s bar and its diverse patrons could oust him from power; Fighting 69th infantry unit member “Lucky” Mike Quinlan (Kevin Dennis), whose loyalties change when he returns from battle; escaped slave Joe (Sidney DuPont) – renamed Washington Henry by Samuel – who’s been separated from his girlfriend during the Underground Railroad journey, and who needs a place to stay until she arrives; and a new singer/songwriter/piano player at the bar, Milton Moore (Jacob Fishel), who may have renamed himself.

Why should you hightail it to this “Paradise?” Let’s start with the music, which provides something for everyone – a sarcastic self-declaration by Annie when her husband thinks an Underground Railroad visit is too dangerous for her to accompany him (“Gentle Annie”) to a joyous dance competition at the bar (“Ring, Ring the Banjo”) to a character stoking the fires of rebellion (“One Match and One Man”) to the love of Nelly and Willie from the day they met (“Larry’s Goodbye”). A 14-person orchestra playing 31 different instruments, led by music supervisor/conductor Jason Howland, who composed the score with the help of lyricists Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare, provides all the accompaniment this talented cast deserves.

Speaking of that cast, two-time Tony nominee Moisés Kaufman, the director of “Paradise Square,” has brought out believable emotions/performances from every one of them. And the amazing dances you’ll see throughout the show should earn another Tony nomination for two-time Tony Award Winner Bill T. Jones. I haven’t seen such a variety of dance styles in a non-revue musical in an awfully long time.

In summary, the phrase “a rare and special lot” is used by Nelly to describe the people at Paradise Square. This musical for adults, with a backdrop of the life-changing war and Draft Riots, is both rare and special. So bring your vaccination card and wear your mask – Broadway in Chicago requires both to keep us all safe – and enjoy this slice of “Paradise.”

Paul Lockwood is an enthusiastic singer, frequent local theater actor (including Theatre 121′s Storybook Players repertory group), Grace Lutheran Church (Woodstock) and Toastmasters member, occasional theater reviewer, columnist, and past president of TownSquare Players.

IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Paradise Square”
WHERE: James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago
WHEN: Tuesday through Sunday performances (except Thanksgiving) through Dec. 5
INFORMATION: 800-775-2000, ticketmaster.com

Dance, vocals stand out in 'Paradise Square' +

by Eloise Marie Valadez

Chicago's Nederlander Theatre opened its doors for the first time since the start of the pandemic with a new Broadway-bound musical last Wednesday.

"Paradise Square" is currently lighting up the Chicago Loop's theatrical scene with powerful vocal and dance performances. The show continues to Dec. 7. It's scheduled to begin previews Feb. 22 at The Barrymore Theatre on Broadway with an official opening on March 20.

"Paradise Square" is set in New York City in the late 1800s during the Civil War. During that time in the Five Points slum area of New York, immigrants from Ireland and free-born Black Americans lived in community with one another both celebrating their individual cultures and creating a unified family of neighbors. The musical celebrates this unique time in history.

It's there in Five Points where the Tap dance form was born and the musical highlights a blending of Tap with Irish Step Dancing as well as the dance form Juba featuring creative choreography by Bill T. Jones.

The story line of the show revolves around a free-born Black woman named Nelly O'Brien, portrayed by Joaquina Kalukango, who is married to Willie O'Brien, played by Matt Bogart, who is of Irish heritage. Nelly is the owner/operator of Paradise Square, the saloon which is the center of life, in a sense, for the residents of Five Points.

Audience members meet other characters such as Annie Lewis (Chilina Kennedy), an Irish woman who is married to Samuel Jacob Lewis, a Black reverend, portrayed by Nathaniel Stampley; Irish immigrant Owen Duignan, who is Annie's nephew, played by A.J. Shively; Washington Henry, an escaped slave, portrayed by Sidney DuPont; and others.

In the musical, topics of racism, the Draft Riots of 1863, immigration, slavery and other societal issues are prominent throughout the story line. But what's also of note is that the play brings to the forefront that this was a unique community of New Yorkers striving to live in harmony with one another despite all the chaos at that time.

"Paradise Square," produced by Garth Drabinsky, features a book by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan. The play is directed by Tony winner Moises Kaufman with the score written by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen along with Masi Asare and Larry Kirwan.

While strong choreography and powerhouse musical numbers are engaging, the production remains a bit too long and some of the characters need more fleshing out, namely the character of famed American composer Stephen Foster, who weaves in and out of his somewhat confusing role in the show. Segments of some Foster songs are blended nicely into the score of "Paradise Square." (History states that Foster spent some time in Five Points.)

The highlights in "Paradise Square" are most definitely the exuberant dance numbers and the emotionally-charged vocals of the lead characters.

Kalukango as Nelly offers superb vocals throughout. Her performance of the powerful "Let It Burn" tugs at the heartstrings.

Dance performances by Shively and DuPont receive high praise for energy and technical prowess. Both are a joy to watch.

Other highlighted numbers include "Paradise Square," "Camptown Races," "Gentle Annie," "Angelina Baker," "Someone to Love" and "Breathe Easy."

FYI: "Paradise Square" continues to Dec. 7 at Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago. For ticket information, visit BroadwayInChicago.com.

JOAQUINA KALUKANGO—A NIGHT TO REMEMBER! +

by Ed Tracy

The fiercely defiant performance of Joaquina Kalukango in the role of Nelly O’Brien electrifies the ambitious new Garth H. Drabinsky produced musical “Paradise Square” directed by Moisés Kaufman that opened its pre-Broadway run on Wednesday at Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre. Throttling up in the face of adversity through the clash of cultures story during the Civil War, Kalukango stunned the opening night audience with the epic and emotional Act II anthem “Let It Burn” that resonates with such strength as to cross generational lines and echo the issues of our time. It is a powerful coda to a complex musical about social inequality and unrest whose score splendidly weaves together 19th century Irish immigrant and African American dance styles.

Up front, it is important to note that after nearly three years of civil war, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, however, the Proclamation only applied to specified rebellious states and regions. When it was enacted on January 1, 1863, the Proclamation had already served as much to define the war as a fight for freedom from slavery as it did to further polarize the unsettling and growing hostility between the surging immigrant communities in the North and those freeborn Black Americans and escaped slaves seeking a safe haven.

The Five Points district in New York City was a melting pot for freeborn Black Americans and Irish immigrant populations whose work and intermixed family lives found common ground in the shared desperation of poverty. Fueled by white upper class discrimination that perpetuated their containment to the area, the cultures were actually allowed to coexist and, in many cases, prosper in the midst of the deplorable conditions. However, what could be a new order was not. As casualties from the long and brutal war continued to mount, attitudes sharply eroded. In April 1863, when Congress enacted a draft that exempted those who could pay their way out of service or enlist a substitute in their place, the inequities were laid bare. The draft order also unjustly disqualified the Black population in New York from serving, despite many other regiments already in place, leading to descension, mistrust, and, ultimately, violence in the form of the death and destruction during the July 1863 New York Draft Riots.

It is at this historical tipping point that the show begins with a flashback to Five Points in late 1862, with the escalating war as a dramatic background. Nelly (Kalukango) is the Black owner of Paradise Square, a brothel that welcomes everyone to mix and celebrate. With her white husband, Will O’Brien (Matt Bogart), her brother Reverend Samuel Jacob Lewis (Nathaniel Stampley) and his wife Annie Lewis (Chilina Kennedy), the titular opening number exudes the ethnic stamp of the neighborhood as a welcoming, inclusive and safe place. We quickly meet Annie’s nephew, Owen Duignan (A.J.Shivley), an Irish immigrant and Washington Henry (Sidney DuPont), an escaped slave who are given shelter by Nelly and her husband while Milton Moore a/k/a Stephen Foster (Jacob Fishel) is offered a job as a piano player.

There are several storylines to unpack along the way within the book written by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan, who is also credited with conceiving the work. Nelly and Annie are under scrutiny by the uptown boss Frederic Tiggins (John Dossett) that results in fines and threats of closure. When “Lucky” Mike Quinlan (Kevon Dennis) returns from the war disabled and bitter about his personal situation and the loss of jobs available for Irish dockworkers, he leads a public protest against the draft decree that will further diminish the rights of Irish immigrants who are at the top of the draft list. Fearing that he will be drafted to fight for a cause he does not believe in, Owen competes for a $300 prize—a years pay at the time—that will buy his exemption from service, while Washington, desperate to be reunited with his wife Angelina Baker (Gabrielle McClinton), walks a tight rope between the flight to freedom and prosecution for past actions.

The company of over fifty actors and musicians perform twenty musical numbers—music by Jason Howland with lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare—on a massive, multi-level Allen Moyer designed urban set that evokes a gritty, mid-19th century landscape and incorporates gorgeous Toni-Leslie James costumes. The orchestral arrangements would benefit greatly with the addition of a box accordion for a larger and more varied interpretation in the Irish step-dancing numbers enhancing the strong fusion of all of the dance numbers. Bill T. Jones choreography is exhilarating. The music of Stephen Foster is uniquely interpreted by Kirwan including “Oh Susanna” all superbly performed by the ensemble. Notable highlights include Stampley and DuPont’s “I’d Be A Soldier”, Kalukango and Kennedy’s touching ballad “Someone to Love” and “Ring, Ring the Banjo”—a perfect spot for a banjo solo. The wide-ranging elements of the book tend to minimize Nelly’s compelling story. In the shadow of a devastating war, there is more than enough material to increase the dramatic tension, but that hardly matters to the overall enjoyment of the searing final moments of Kalukango’s exhilarating performance that will make anyone’s visit to “Paradise Square” a night to remember.

Around the Town Chicago Paradise Square Review +

by Alan Bresloff
November 18, 2021

It has been some time since Chicago had a Pre-Broadway” opening! Of course, the pandemic didn’t help, but now that theater is coming back, we are fortunate enough to have the pre-Broadway run of “Paradise Square” a new musical with a book by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan. The music is by Jason Howland with lyrics by Nathan Tysen & Masi Asare. Kirwan is also the person who conceived the show and added some music to the score. Kirwan’s songs are inspired by the works of Stephen Foster and during the play, we learn more about Foster and his work. There is even a line in the play about his music, that it seems it was written as if those serving as slaves were enjoying the music about their lives. It makes one think a little deeper about racism and where we over 150 years after the story contained in the play took place.

The story takes place in an area of New York called Five Points, a rough area located in Lower Manhattan. It was an area that was wild and home to the Black population that had been freed and Irish immigrants who had freed themselves called “home”. Over time, these two segments of society became “family” with many interracial marriages and even the escaped slaves found sanctuary in what they called “Paradise Square”.

Understand that there were other problems in the country at this time. A Civil War and a thing called the “draft” where rich people could buy their way out for $300 and Blacks were not invited to participate. The poor Irish immigrants were left to be taken into a fight they knew little about and they stirred up the riots that would be a disaster in the area.

The set (Allen Moyer) is one that allows for easy change of scenes making this two and a half hour show seem quicker. It has levels and rotates in a manner that it can become the bar where most of the action takes place. The score is powerful for the most part and Director Moises Kaufman shows his skill in using the stage to its fullest, but the dance ( choreographed by Bill T. Jones) is where this production truly shines. After all, while this story is about the culture and people of the times, it is also about dance. Yes! Dance is the underlying theme to this marvelous show and the dancers in this production are amazingly talented. We all know Michael Flatley, “The Lord of the Dance”, right? These dancers can do him one better. The African Juva and the Irish Step/jig merged into what we call “tap” dancing and as we all know every big Broadway production has a toe-tapping tap number to wow us- well, this baby has some numbers that will take the wind out of you and put a smile on your face.

While the score is not special, being a new show I am pretty sure that when it comes back to Chicago after its Broadway run, we will see and hear different songs. Shows do change as they open. There are songs in this show that are powerful and one particular piece in the second act “Let It Burn” sung by Nelly ( Joaquina Kalukango is perfect for this role as the owner of the bar) is a show-stopper. A standing ovation before the song was over and another when it was finished ( maybe 3 minutes of applause and cheers from the packed house at The Nederlander Theatre). I must tell you, a tear swelled up in each eye during this number!

The cast of players is made up of all types of people and their voices are all dynamite. Besides Ms Kalukango as Nelly O’Brien, we have Chilina Kennedy as Annie Lewis and Nathaniel Stampley as her husband Reverend Samuel Jacob Lewis. The story is about the immigrants and the “slaves” so we central in on one of each. Owen ( played to perfection by A.J. Shively, who is quite the “jig” dancer) the immigrant and Washington (Sidney DuPont) a runaway slave who it turns out is a wanted man for killing his “master”. These men compete for the big prize in an amazing dance competition. Other cast members of note are John Dossett ( the bad guy Fredric Tiggens) Kevin Dennis as “Lucky” Mike Quinlin, Matt Bogart as Willie O’Brian, Nelly’s husband, Jacob Fishel as Milton Moore and Gabrielle McClinton as Angelina Baker. The ensemble is strong in both dance and song, making each character feel real. Watching these stories evolve we get the sense that this is a history lesson and one that needs to be heard. As a country we still have a long way to go. Here was a community that had no racial divides, living together, marrying each other and becoming family. I was impressed by the story, the cast and the overall experience of seeing a show that I think will be around for many years.

Pre-Broadway’s historical “Paradise Square” poised to be “Hamilton” huge +

by Andy Argyrakis

Broadway In Chicago started showing signs of post-lockdown life with a national tour of “Rent,” but it truly came bounding back with the long-delayed debut of “Paradise Square,” which gains additional significance as the America’s first pre-Big Apple premiere of the era.

However, the musical set in New York City’s Five Points slum in 1863 as the Civil War raged actually started sewing its seeds a decade ago, but continues to be refined, and in the process, reflects all that much more relevance today.

Given its historical context and based on the audience’s reception, at least as far as opening night at the James M. Nederlander Theatre was concerned, its poised to be “Hamilton” huge thanks to a dynamite cast, magnetic soundtrack, tremendous chorography, and perhaps most importantly, so many lessons to be learned it will likely take days to fully digest.

The complex but well-positioned premise revolves around Irish immigrants, who were seeking refuge from the Great Famine, settling alongside both free-born Black Americans and slaves who escaped on the Underground Railroad.

Despite their differences, the two impoverished communities embraced one another, joined together in marriage, raised families and combined their rich cultures, frequently revolving around the “Paradise Square” tavern that welcomed everyone.

Though it’s unclear if the show is an exact depiction of precisely what happened or adapts artistic liberties in order to streamline the storyline into a digestible runtime of a couple hours and change remains to be seen, but it makes no difference in terms of ultimate impact.

In fact, “Paradise Square” could easily become the subject of many college theses to come, but in the meantime, it’s positively gripping a diverse audience as it takes deep dives into politics, prejudices, privilege, and ideally, the pursuit of peace in the ashes of the deadly NY Draft Riots.

All the while, Tony Award nominee Joaquina Kalukango, as the trailblazing bar owner Nelly O’Brien, is a certified superstar-in-the-making whose jaw-dropping rendition of the showstopping “Let It Burn” could easily be in the running for this century’s stand out thus far. Fellow belter Chilina Kennedy, as her sister-in-law Annie Lewis, is right up there when it comes to charisma, while A.J. Shively, as their nephew Owen Duignan, and Sidney DuPont, as fugitive Washington Henry, rival one another with their Irish step and African juba dancing abilities.

In other words, “Paradise Square” is certain to sweep the Tonys in so many categories and the Windy City was amongst the very earliest to be in the room where it happened before making its way to conquer the Great White Way.

Hosea Sanders on Paradise Square +

by Hosea Sanders

“I was blown away by the powerful vocal performances and exhilarating choreography, highlighting a historical era that deserves this celebration.”

The Fourth Walsh “Paradise Square” (Broadway in Chicago): Epic Tale, Endearing Relationships and DANCING! +

by Bill Esler
November 19, 2021

Broadway in Chicago presents the Pre-Broadway Musical PARADISE SQUARE.

From the very first to the very last note, Joaquina Kalukango (Nellie) owns the bar, the stage, and the show. The phenomenal Kalukango welcomes the audience and patrons to her tavern with a rebel-rousing “Paradise Square.” Much later in the show, Kalukango belts out, literally and figuratively, the show-stopping “Let It Burn.” Her unforgettable delivery blazes with a fierce intensity. She. Crushes. It! The perfection of the moment is met with an impromptu standing ovation. Bravo, Kalukango!

In between these two bookend numbers, Kalukango’s jovial moxie amuses and intrigues as multiple stories unfold. Nellie is a successful black entrepreneur happily married to an Irish immigrant. Her pioneering spirit is even more admirable knowing that this is the mid 1800s… during the Civil War. All the stories are rooted in a Manhattan slum neighborhood where Irish immigrants live alongside free-born Black-Americans.

The show was conceived by Larry Kirwan and written by him, Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, and Craig Lucas. The score was composed by Jason Howland with lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare. The creative team centers their characters and songs around the real-life event of when the government drafted men to fight in the Civil War. To avoid military service, a man had to pay $300 or be black. Irish immigrants protested.

Moisés Kaufman (director), Jason Howland (musical direction), Bill T. Jones (choreographer)utilize a rock solid ensemble for masterful storytelling. The epic tale is weaved tightly together in the endearing relationships. A feisty Chilina Kennedy (Annie) reminds her reserved husband (played by Nathaniel Stampley) who he married in the playful “Gentle Annie.” Later, Kennedy and her sister-in-law (Kalukango) sing a heart-tugging duet called “Someone to Love.” These two strong women captivate with a beautifully, authentic bond. Throughout the show, Sidney DuPont (Washington) pines for his true love with “Angelina Baker”. His reminiscing is accompanied by Jones’ well-choreographed movements to illustrate slavery and plantation life.

The dancing throughout the show is fantastic! Jones’ dancers demonstrate how African juba and Irish stepping led to American Tap. DuPont and A.J. Shively (Owen) lead the rhythmic spectacle with ongoing dance competitions. Their physicality and energetic feats are transfixing. Other dancers join into the numbers for a stage bursting with feet kicking, skirt swirling, fun-loving merriment. It’s like Riverdance meets Stomp over at the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s dance studio. Even though I loved the stories and the singing, the dancing was my favorite!

PARADISE SQUARE is so much more than a musical. It’s a history lesson and cautionary tale. History repeats itself as classism, immigration rights, Black Lives Matter, corrupt politicians and even an insurrection become the topical backbone of the show. The show boasts TWO interracial marriages and female empowerment for both Kalukango and Kennedy. These layers create an additional wistful nod to how-far-we-have-NOT-come. The depth and breadth of PARADISE SQUARE is a thought-provoking message for both present and future generations. If we learned to be more empathic to others’ struggles, we would stop repeating our inhumane history.

PARADISE SQUARE has its Broadway premiere in March 2022. Although it’s in great shape, it could use some tightening especially in the longer first act. I highly recommend seeing it in Chicago, on Broadway and at the Tony’s!

Moments of Glory in 'Paradise Square' at Nederlander Chicago +

November 4, 2021

It’s hard to cheer and yell with a mask on. But that I did right along with the entire crowd at “Paradise Square,” as Joaquina Kalukango delivered a shatteringly powerful show-stopper, “Let It Burn,” holding the audience in her thrall for every second.

This was the best but not the only great moment in “Paradise Square,” which opened its five-week, pre-Broadway run November 2 at the Nederlander Theater and officially opens November 17. It’s the relatively unknown tale of the Five Points District in New York City, the tough section that is portrayed circa 1846 in “Gangs of New York.”

Set during the Civil War in 1863, “Paradise Square” tells of the Black community of free-born men and women who lived in harmony with Irish immigrants, intermarrying, and singing and dancing together. The score draws on the music of Stephen Foster, who had lived and worked in the Five Points.

But as the Civil War rages on, the Union declares an unprecedented military draft, affecting only white working men. Blacks were exempted from the draft because they were not considered citizens. Wealthy people could hire substitutes. The immigrants resisted, and eventually turned on their Black neighbors to vent their rage, leading to the infamous New York Draft Riots of July 1863. This is not glossed over in "Paradise Square" but is the main plot point. Kalukango plays the central role of Nelly O’Brien, proprietor of the saloon in which the action takes place. Her Irish immigrant husband is Willy O'Brien (Matt Bogart); her sister-in-law Annie O’Brien (Chilina Kennedy) also works in the saloon, though her husband is a preacher, Reverend Samuel Jacob Lewis (Nathaniel Stampley).

Kalukango is the dramatic anchor throughout the show, but it is her transcendant performance of "Let It Burn" that also serves as the climax of the plot, and its denoument. We’re talking Jennifer-Hudson-in-Dream-Girls calber, perhaps even better. Really!

Other spectacular moments include the performance of A.J. Shively as newly arrived Irish immigrant Owen Duigan. Shively is a sensational singer and dancer. Each time his lilting, filigreed tenor launched into “Why Should I Die in Springtime,” tears welled in my eyes.

Chilina Kennedy gives us an Annie that is a firebrand and a spark plug. The beauty of her soprano is a perfect complement to Kalukango’s powerful mezzo-soprano. When the two sing a duet, it is sublime.

But this is even more a show about dance. Featuring choreography by Bill T. Jones, it shows off many dance styles, emphasizing Irish step-dancing and Black American Juba, as well as tap dancing, believed to have originated in Five Points. Jones’s choreography greets us as soon as the curtain rises in an opening scene in which the preacher blesses departing soldiers, two wraiths do what might be described as a liturgical dance.

Jones also crafts the visual representations of the Underground Railroad, which in this show is given parity with Ellis Island as a point of entry for Black immigrants from the South. "Paradise Square" breaks new ground in its full embrace of the Black journey as a part of all of our stories in the formation of America.

Produced by Garth Drabinsky, “Paradise Square” is directed by Tony Award nominee Moisés Kaufman and a book by Christina Anderson Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan. The production features the “re-imagined” songs of Stephen Foster and original compositions, with a score by Jason Howland, Nathan Tyson, Masi Asare, and Kirwan.

There are some weaknesses in "Paradise Square." As might be expected with four hands scripting and five composers involved, we have a story that is everything and the kitchen sink, plus music and dance. The music is continuous and at times, soaring. But much of it is undistinguished. The second half is refreshingly direct, and regardless of its shortcomings, "Paradise Square" is not to be missed.

Theater to See This Season After a Very Long Intermission +

by Steven McElroy
September 17, 2021

Jacobi Hall, center, in “Paradise Square.” The musical arrives on Broadway next spring, directed by Moisés Kaufman and choreographed by Bill T. Jones. Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

PARADISE SQUARE
I caught this production, which had its premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theater, while passing through the area in January 2019. The musical, about freeborn Black people and newly arrived Irish immigrants coexisting peacefully, for a time, in Five Points, a New York slum, during the Civil War, focuses on a fascinating American story. It seemed Broadway bound when I saw it, and the moment will soon arrive: Following another pre-Broadway run at the James M. Nederlander Theater in Chicago (Nov. 2-Dec. 5), “Paradise” will arrive in New York in the spring. Moisés Kaufman directs the show, with a book by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan; music and lyrics by Jason Howland, Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare; and choreography by Bill T. Jones. (Previews begin Feb. 22; opens March 20, Barrymore Theater)

READ MORE

Anthemic New Song For Broadway-Bound ‘Paradise Square’ Says ‘Breathe Easy’: Watch First Look +

by Greg Evans
September 17, 2021

EXCLUSIVE: Paradise Square, the new Broadway-bound musical from producer Garth H. Drabinsky set during the history-making New York Draft Riots of the 1860s, will arrive at the Barrymore Theatre in February with several news songs added since its 2019 West Coast incarnation, including an anthemic new musical number that can’t help but summon thoughts of the galvanizing response to recent racial discord: The new number is called “Breathe Easy.”

In this new music video, debuting on Deadline, listeners can hear what Broadway audiences have in store.

The musical features a book by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan, and a score by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen, with additional material provided by Masi Asare and Kirwan. The new song was written by Howland (music) and Tysen & Asare (lyrics).

In the video, recorded at New York City’s Seer Sound, the number – which includes lines like “In your breath is freedom” and “no eyes in the back of our heads/soon we won’t need ’em” – is performed by the musical’s Gabrielle McClinton (Pippin) and Sidney DuPont (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), with Bernard Dotson, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Jacobi Hall, Kayla Pecchioni, Lee Siegel, Jay McKenzie, Chloe Davis, Alan Wiggins and Hailee Kaleem Wright.

“The first time I heard it, I was immediately taken aback,” said DuPont, who will play Washington Henry in the musical. “Oftentimes we underestimate how much the pressures of life weigh on your shoulders and with ‘Breathe Easy,’ it reminds me that everything is going to be OK if you take a breath. If you really solidify yourself, you can get through just about anything. And I think that in the show, especially when that song comes, I don’t think there will be a dry eye in the house. I think everyone will feel it.”

McClinton, who will play a slave named Angelina Baker, describes ‘Breathe Easy’ as “freeing to sing.”

“And I think it doesn’t just fit into this show, it really fits into the world,” she said. “It literally says breathe easy. And I think especially after the past year and a half we’ve all had, we can remind ourselves to breathe easy. And I think for Angelina being a slave and being on this torturous journey, it’s her mantra.”

Composer Howland handled the recording’s musical and vocal arrangements, and musical direction and orchestrations. The recording was produced by Howland and Billy Stein.

Paradise Square is set in New York City’s Five Points neighborhood of 1863, and chronicles the raucous dance contests between the area’s Irish and Black communities, and the racial equilibrium that came to a brutal end with the deadly NY Draft Riots. Moisés Kaufman will direct, and Bill T. Jones is the choreographer. Graciela Daniele will provide musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

The Broadway production has also drawn considerable attention as the comeback vehicle for executive producer Garth H. Drabinsky, the once ubiquitous Canadian theater producer whose legal and financial transgressions resulted in a prison sentence in Canada. At his peak in the 1990s, Drabinsky produced such Broadway hits as Kiss of the Spider Woman, Show Boat, Ragtime and Fosse. For Paradise Square, Drabinsky will team with longtime colleague Peter LeDonne, who co-produces.

Paradise Square will begin Broadway previews at the Shubert Organization’s Barrymore Theatre on February 22, 2022, with an opening night set for Sunday, March 20.

CHECK OUT THE NEW SONG

2021–22 Season Preview: The Shows We Can't Wait to See +

by Madeline Schrock
August 30, 2021

Paradise Square illuminates a little-known pocket of American history: As the country was divided by the Civil War, free-born Black Americans, escaped enslaved people and Irish immigrants were living alongside one another in New York City's Five Points neighborhood. Bars erupted with spirited dance contests, playfully pitting Black American juba against Irish step dancing, and saw the early days of tap dancing. But in July 1863, the deadly New York Draft Riots burst this idyllic bubble. With choreography by the masterful Bill T. Jones and additional musical staging by Graciela Daniele and director Moisés Kaufman, Paradise Square will have its pre-Broadway run in Chicago Nov. 2–Dec. 5, followed by a planned Broadway opening March 20.

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Jigs and Juba reunited in NYC +

A new African-Irish musical based on immigrants in New York could rival Hamilton’s Broadway success, writes Julian Brouwer

by Julian Brouwer
July 18, 2021

This week saw the Broadway musical Hamilton muscle its way up the Emmys list, scooping 12 nominations for the live-streamed version of the stage performance. The show has grossed over $612m to date and also won 11 gongs at the 70th Tony Awards. The musical, it seems, is back with a bang and the hunt is on for the next extravaganza.

Step up Paradise Square, which will be one of the most anticipated stage musicals to make it to Broadway since the pandemic began.

The new musical tells the story of how Irish immigrants fled the horrors of the Famine and settled in New York in the mid-1800s, living side by side with Black Americans in a racial powder keg, a slum called Five Points. The same area in downtown Manhattan was immortalised in Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film Gangs of New York.

Set mainly in a dance hall, the show traces the mix of African and Irish traditions that contributed to the development of tap as a dance form. According to the producers, it depicts a multiracial community “bound together by misery and music.”

Through their shared cultures, expressed in dance contests at local dance halls, tap dancing – a combination of Juba dance and Irish step dancing – evolved.

The action takes place in 1863 when the communities living in Five Points were disrupted by class, race, and economic tensions associated with the Civil War, and which eventually led to the New York City draft riots.

The idea for the show originated with Wexford-born musician Larry Kirwan, who was for 25 years the lead singer with Irish-American band Black 47.

He says he drew inspiration from stories his Irish grandfather told him about Five Points and its thriving dance halls.

Kirwan, who lives in New York, says: “Paradise Square is about two brutalised peoples, Irish and African American, one fleeing famine, and one fleeing slavery, who meet in the Five Points.

“They bond with each other through dance music. [After the African Americans first settled in Five Points], you got this big swarm of Irish immigrants who joined them in 1845 because of the Great Hunger.

“There are definitely parallels with Hamilton. Both deal with race and immigration, which are huge topics in America. Both are historical and musical. In Paradise Square, two groups of people get together and created a new society and it can happen again.

“At that time the Irish were actually lower on the social ladder than the African Americans. Many of the African Americans and the Irish intermarried and became what was known then as Amalgamationists.

“I used to read old books about the era. I would see pictures of Irish fiddlers playing Irish jigs, while the African Americans played with them. They were coming up with a new music. I began to look at pictures of the dancers – it was always the same – a Black man and an Irish woman. The look of joy in their faces beamed across the years. There was something special between them. The harmony between Irish and Blacks would only last 18 years until the Draft Riots claimed the lives of a dozen black people, who were lynched.

“Some of them stayed in New York but gradually it wasn’t cool any more to be an Amalgamationist,” says Kirwan. “It was dangerous to be one. The movement, such as it was, faded away.”

The writing team on the production includes Kirwan and veteran playwrights Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley and Craig Lucas.

They are working on rearranged and re-lyricised songs of 19th-century composer Stephen Foster, who spent the final months of his life in Five Points. Direction is by Moisés Kaufman, who is also directing Seven Deadly Sins this summer.

The production will star Tony nominee Joaquina Kalukango – who is best known for another Broadway show The Color Purple – as lead character Nelly Freeman, and Chilina Kennedy.

The show also represents a comeback bid by the controversial producer Garth Drabinsky, who won three Tony Awards in the 1990s, including for Kiss of the Spider Woman.

“The public will tell me whether this is a comeback – I can’t predict anything – but I am certainly exhilarated,” he said. “I’m just thrilled to be back where I always longed to be, and doing what I always longed to do, which is to creatively produce theatre.

“Listening to this music I know is 150 years old and sounds like it was recorded yesterday, I got really excited about it.”

Kaufman said the show is particularly timely, as America grapples with its attitudes toward immigration and race.

“I’m fascinated by how we can discover the ideologies which we live under, so this was perfect for me,” he said.

“Five Points seemed like a really interesting social experiment. It wasn’t an ideological utopia – they were there because they could only afford to be there – and yet they were doing this thing that we all say we’re interested in doing, and it interests me to think about why it blew up.”

‘Paradise Square’ will open at Broadway’s Barrymore Theatre next February, after a test run at Chicago’s James M Nederlander Theatre

Ceol na nGael: Interview with Larry Kirwan +

Ceol na nGael
June 13, 2021

Patrick Breen: We just found out some very exciting news about your musical Paradise Square, which is set to open on Broadway next winter. So, could you tell us a little bit about this new show?

Larry Kirwan: Well, it began as a musical called Hard Times, and it ran at the cell theater on Twenty Third Street back in 2012 and 2013. It got a great review in The New York Times. A person who has become a friend later, Peter LeDonne, who is a theater producer, came to see it and he put me in touch with a famous producer called Garth Drabinsky in Toronto. And I went up and worked on it for Garth for quite a while and we brought in a lot of other people to work on it: Bill T. Jones, the choreographer; Moisés Kaufman, the director; Jason Howland, the musical writer and arranger; and Nathan Tysen, who is a lyricist. So we all got in and raised our sleeves up and worked on it for years and did a lot of workshops of it up in Toronto. And then we changed the name of it to Paradise Square, because that was a part of the Five Points.

The story is basically about the Irish people who came over fleeing the Great Hunger between 1845 and 1850. And they landed in a place called the Five Points, which was a free African American area down around where the courthouses are below Chinatown right now. And the young women, especially young Irish women, because the social order had broken down in Ireland during the famine...when they arrived here, they started to go to the African American dance halls and they became friendly with young African American men and many of them married because there was a shortage of Irish men, and a shortage of African American women. And they had families and they were called amalgamationists. And I became fascinated with that group and wanted to write the story of a Black woman, Nellie, who runs a dance hall down there and how she deals with this whole new society. She has an Irish husband, and everything was going fine, until during the Civil War, the Draft Riots broke out on July 13, 1863. And there were riots and African Americans were hung. And the amalgamationists, basically many of them melted back into the Black communities. And so, their story disappeared. But I had heard of it from my grandfather, who I grew up with in Wexford. He was an old man and he raised me, and he had friends who went to the Five Points, and he told me about the beginnings of it.

And then one day in the Strand Bookstore, I came across a book of the dancers in an African American dance hall, and it was Irish women, Black men, and the look of joy on their faces just transported me across the years. And I decided to write a play about a dance hall and how the amalgamationists hung out there. And the one piece of music that I felt that both the Irish and the African Americans would know at that point were the songs of Stephen Foster. And I was already familiar with many of those. And so, we adapted a lot of Stephen Foster songs and then wrote new songs to try flesh out the action. And now it's called Paradise Square. It opens again in Chicago in November and then moves to Broadway in February, and that's the story.

Patrick Breen: Well, that sounds so exciting. You mentioned the dance hall and the various dancing that inspired you to write this story. Maggie and I are both Irish dancers, and I know we're both fascinated, and we talk about it on the show all the time about ceilidhs, and the importance of that in our families. I'm sure many in your family, Maggie, met through ceilidhs. I know that my mom and dad met through a ceilidh. So what kind of research went into that and how did the dance aspect of it inspire you to write this story?

Larry Kirwan: Well, odd that you mentioned ceilidh, because when I was about 15, I went to a place called Baylon Guiora in County Cork, and every night there was a ceilidh. And I learned ceilidh dancing for the first time in Wexford, which was kind of a rock and roll town. But I learned to love the ceilidh dancing - I wasn't that much good at it, but the Walls of Limerick and those simple dances. And so, I had a familiarity with it. But I also researched where tap dancing came from and it was a mixture of Irish step dancing and African sway. And Master Juba was the great dancer of his day. I can't remember the name of the Irish champion, except his name is Irish Mike. And they had great battles and people would bet money on each of them. But they became friends and they realized they were the only ones not making money. So they began to throw the dances. They would bet on the one that they said was going to win that day. So right from the start, there was trickery going on. But how the whole thing came around was the Irish guy would come out first, say he would be chosen to flip a coin and he would do all these great steps. And then the African American guy would come out. And what he was allowed to do was imitate the Irish guy with his steps, but then show how better his steps were. And then the Irish guy was allowed to come back out and do the same thing. So gradually, by imitating each other, they were coming up with step dancing or with tap dancing all the time. And that's a big part of it. And you probably know the group Hammerstep.

Patrick Breen: I do, yep.

Larry Kirwan: Those guys are doing the choreography of the Irish step dancing and they're working hand in hand with Bill T. Jones, who's always my favorite choreographer and dancer. And then I'm married to a choreographer myself, so I had it in the background.

Maggie Peknic: All my cousins are Irish dancers too, so we would love to do dance battles. I'm not sure if they were as good, though, as the ones you just mentioned. My cousins, we all love Broadway. We go all the time. But I know given the pandemic, it had to be put on hold. So what type of impact did Covid-19 and the pandemic specifically have on Paradise Square?

Larry Kirwan: Well, we had a big hit with it at Berkeley Rep in 2018-2019 and it ran for ten weeks out there. It got extended twice. But we had to stop because there was another show coming in. And then we were planning on bringing it to Broadway soon after that but everything froze at that point. And, you know, it's just one of those things you've got to swing with. The dancing was ferocious in Paradise Square. Those Hammerstep guys, when they get going and then Bill T. Jones is a monster, you know what he was getting the people to do and pushing them. So, I think in many ways it didn't hurt for everyone to take a bit of a break. It was fiery because the action takes place in dance battles between Irish and African Americans. And then so rather than having violence in there all the time, it takes place through dance steps. It's great seeing Irish dance being taken to the fullest limit and going up against some of this amazing Broadway dancing that's out there at this point that many of the African Americans were well versed in, but also what Bill T. Jones and his researchers did by going back and finding out how that music and how to dance came from Africa and how the Irish dance came from Ireland, and oddly enough, it wasn't the stiff, hands down by the side style. It was the Sean Nos Irish dancing where they were actually moving. At first, we were doing the stiff type thing. But then I happened upon Sean Nos by accident one day and took it in and said, hey, you know, the Irish were moving their arms too, at this point. And from that point on, the dancing got wilder.

Patrick Breen: Well, it's a bit like West Side Story, those sort of dance battles and fighting through dance. And this is really piquing my interest now. Boy, I can't wait to see this.

The first entirely new Broadway show since the start of the pandemic will be about 19th century New York +

By Anna Rahmanan
June 9, 2021

While New Yorkers gear up to return to Broadway and catch all the shows that had to suddenly close in response to the COVID-19 pandemic back in March (here are all the ones you can already buy tickets for), an entirely new production is now demanding our attention. Exploring race relations in 19th century New York, Paradise Square is a new musical set to open on the Great White Way next winter, effectively becoming the very first unscheduled show since the pandemic to announce an opening date.

As of now, previews are set to begin on February 22 at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on West 47th Street. The show will then open on March 20.

More details about the plot: Set in 1863, smack-dab in the middle of the Civil War, the musical focuses on Lower Manhattan's Five Points neighborhood, where free Black and Irish immigrants live together. As much an exploration of the history of dance halls as it is about racial relations, the show's epicenter is Paradise Square, a local saloon owned by a Black woman named Nelly Freeman.

"With visceral and nuanced staging and choreography that captures the pulsating energy when Black and Irish cultures meet and set to a contemporary score that reimagines early American song, Paradise Square depicts an overlooked true-life moment when hope and possibility shone bright," reads the show's official description.

Slave Play star and current Tony Award nominee Joaquina Kalukango will play Freeman in a cast that includes Sidney DuPont, Chilina Kennedy and Nathaniel Stampley, among others. Moisés Kaufman will serve as the production's director, Garth Drabinsky will produce and Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen are responsible for the show's score.

Ready or not, Broadway is plotting a huge comeback—and we're giddy with excitement at the mere thought of it.

New Musical About 19th-Century New York Plans Broadway Run +

By Michael Paulson
June 7, 2021

“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 run-up to the Civil War, free Black residents and Irish immigrants coexisted until the draft riots of 1863.

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 American 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 an American 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” a comeback bid by storied Canadian producer, Garth Drabinsky, 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.

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.”

Garth Drabinsky-Produced ‘Paradise Square’ Announces 2022 Broadway Opening +

By Greg Evans
June 7, 2021

Paradise Square, the original musical from a creative team that includes Moisés Kaufman, Bill T. Jones, Craig Lucas and Black 47 singer Larry Kirwan, will begin Broadway previews at the Shubert Organization’s Barrymore Theatre on February 22, 2022, with an opening night set for Sunday, March 20.

Producer Garth H. Drabinsky announced the dates today, along with the new casting of Joaquina Kalukango, currently Tony-nominated for her performance in Slave Play.

As previously reported, the production will arrive on Broadway directly from a five-week Chicago engagement.

The musical’s creative team includes director Moisés Kaufman and choreographer Bill T. Jones, with a book by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan. Graciela Daniele will provide musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

The score of Paradise Square is by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen, with additional material provided by Masi Asare and Kirwan. The musical features original songs as well as reimaginings of the songs of Stephen Foster.

Set in New York City’s Five Points neighborhood of 1863, Paradise Square chronicles the raucous dance contests between the area’s Irish and Black communities, and a racial equilibrium that came to a brutal end with the deadly NY Draft Riots.

The musical will mark the return to Broadway of the once ubiquitous Canadian theater producer Drabinsky. At his peak in the 1990s, Drabinsky produced such Broadway hits as Kiss of the Spider Woman, Show Boat, Ragtime and Fosse. Drabinsky is teamed on Paradise Square with longtime colleague Peter LeDonne, who co-produces.

Kalukango, best known for her role as Kaneisha in Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, also appeared on Broadway in The Color Purpl, Holler If Ya Hear Me and Godspell. Her film and television credits include Amazon’s “One Night in Miami,” HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” and the Netflix series “When They See Us.”

Paradise Square will also feature Chilina Kennedy, John Dossett, Sidney DuPont, A.J. Shively, Nathaniel Stampley, Gabrielle McClinton, Jacob Fishel and Kevin Dennis.

Paradise Square’ Broadway Musical to Star Joaquina Kalukango +

By Etan Vlessing
June 7, 2021

Tony Award nominee Joaquina Kalukango will lead the cast for the new Broadway musical Paradise Square, to open on March 20, 2022 at the Barrymore Theatre.

Former Livent co-founder Garth Drabinsky will produce the first new musical unveiled for Broadway since the pandemic. Set in 1863 New York City amid the Civil War, Paradise Square portrays Irish immigrants and free-born Black Americans living in co-existence in the unlikeliest of neighborhoods.

The musical is based on Hard Times, conceived by Larry Kirwan, which originally ran off-Broadway in 2012. Kalukango is a 2020 Tony Award nominee for best lead actress for her role as Kaneisha in Slave Play.

She has also starred on Broadway in The Color Purple, Holler If Ya Hear Me and Godspell. Her film and TV credits include the role of Betty X in Amazon’s “One Night in Miami” and star turns in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” and the Netflix series “When They See Us.”

Paradise Square will also star Chilina Kennedy, John Dossett, Sidney DuPont and A.J. Shively.

The creative team for Paradise Square includes a score by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen, and direction by Moisés Kaufman and choreography by Bill T. Jones.

Chicago’s Pre-Broadway ‘Paradise Square’ sets cast +

By Chris Jones
June 7, 2021

The Tony nominee Joaquina Kalukango (“Slave Play”) and the Canadian musical-theater star Chilina Kennedy (“Beautiful”) are to star in “Paradise Square,” the Garth Drabinsky musical trying out this fall in Chicago and then headed to Broadway.

The Canadian producer is returning to downtown Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre (formerly the Oriental Theatre), which he restored and where he staged lavish productions of both “Showboat” and “Ragtime.”

“Paradise Square,” which will run between Nov. 2 and Dec. 5 in Chicago before a planned Broadway opening of March 20, tells the story of Manhattan’s Five Points neighborhood in the mid-19th century and posits that the impoverished area supported an integrated community of Black Americans and Irish immigrants.

Other leading performers in the cast include Tony Award nominee John Dossett, Sidney DuPont, A.J. Shively, Nathaniel Stampley, Gabrielle McClinton, Jacob Fishel and Kevin Dennis.

Direction is by Moisés Kaufman (“I Am My Own Wife,”), choreography by Bill T. Jones (”Spring Awakening”), and the multi-author book is from Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan. The longtime Drabinsky collaborator Graciela Daniele (“Ragtime”) will provide musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

The musical features original songs and musical material by Jason Howland, Nathan Tyson and Masi Asare, as well as using some of the songs of Stephen Foster, who was writing and living in the Five Points during the era of the show.

Chicago cast announced for ‘Paradise Square’ pre-Broadway run +

By Miriam Di Nunzio
June 7, 2021

The cast for the Broadway-bound musical “Paradise Square,” which will receive its pre-Broadway run in Chicago this fall, was announced Monday.

Tony Award nominee Joaquina Kalukango and Chilina Kennedy will lead the cast for the show which will receive a five-week engagement at the James M. Nederlander Theatre (24 W. Randolph) Nov. 2-Dec. 5.

The cast will also feature John Dossett, A.J. Shively, Nathaniel Stampley, Sidney DuPont, Gabrielle McClinton, Kevin Dennis and Jacob Fishel.

Produced by Garth Drabinsky, “Paradise Square” is directed by Tony Award nominee Moisés Kaufman (“I Am My Own Wife”), with choreography by two-time Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones (“Spring Awakening,” “Fela!’), and a book by Christina Anderson Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan. The production features the “re-imagined” songs of Stephen Foster and original compositions, with a score by Jason Howland (“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”), Nathan Tysen (“Tuck Everlasting”), Masi Asare (“Monsoon Wedding”) and Kirwan.

The production, which received its world premiere in 2019 at Berkeley Rep, tells the story, set in New York in 1863, about the tenement housing community of Five Points in Lower Manhattan where Irish immigrants and free-born Black Americans who had escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad co-existed and shared their cultures as the tight-knit community until the Civil War’s New York Draft Riots of 1863 violently changed everything.

“It is here in the Five Points where tap dancing was born, as Irish step dancing joyously competed with Black American Juba,” the show’s official press announcement stated.

New Musical Paradise Square Sets Broadway Dates and Theatre +

By Ryan McPhee
June 7, 2021

Following a previously announced engagement in Chicago, the new musical Paradise Square will open at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre March 20, 2022. Previews will begin February 22.

Set in Manhattan’s Five Points neighborhood during the Civil War, the musical follows the inhabitants of a local saloon—including the Black woman who owns it, a conflicted newly arrived Irish immigrant, a runaway slave, and a once-great songwriter.

Joaquina Kalukango, a current Tony nominee for Slave Play, will take on the central role of Nelly Freeman, the saloon proprietor. The principal cast will also include Chilina Kennedy (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), John Dossett (Gypsy), Sidney DuPont (Beautiful), A.J. Shively (Bright Star), Nathaniel Stampley (Porgy and Bess), Gabrielle McClinton (Pippin), Jacob Fishel (Fiddler on the Roof), and Kevin Dennis (Young Frankenstein in Canada).

Additional company members will include Karen Burthwright, Kennedy Caughell, Dwayne Clark, Garrett Coleman, Colin Cunliffe, Chloe Davis, Bernard Dotson, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Sam Edgerly, Shiloh Goodin, Jacobi Hall, Sean Jenness, Jay McKenzie, Ben Michael, Jason Oremus, Eilis Quinn, Sara Sheperd, Lael van Keuren, Sir Brock Warren, and Hailee Kaleem Wright, with more to be announced later.

Moisés Kaufman directs the staging, having helmed the 2018 world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Garth Drabinsky will produce, with his longtime collaborator Peter LeDonne co-producing.

Conceived by Larry Kirwan, Paradise Square features a score by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen, with additional material by Masi Asare and Kirwan. The musical features original songs as well as a reimagining of the songs of Stephen Foster. Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas, and Kirwan penned the book.

Also among the creative team are choreographer Bill T. Jones, musical stager Graciela Daniele, scenic designer Allen Moyer, costume designer Toni-Leslie James, lighting designer Donald Holder, sound designer Jon Weston, projection designer Wendall K. Harrington, special effects designer Gregory Meech, hair and wig designer Matthew B. Armentrout, and dramaturgs Thulani Davis and Sydné Mahone. Casting is by Stewart/Whitley.

The Chicago run will play the James M. Nederlander Theatre November 2–December 5.

Joaquina Kalukango to Lead Paradise Square on Broadway +

By Lindsey Sullivan
June 7, 2021

The new musical Paradise Square, which, as previously reported, will play Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre from November 2 through December 5, is officially Broadway-bound. Performances will begin at the Barrymore Theatre on February 22, 2022 with an opening night set for March 20. Director Moisés Kaufman and choreographer Bill T. Jones will return to the show, which was conceived by Larry Kirwan.

Paradise Square will star Slave Play Tony nominee Joaquina Kalukango, Chilina Kennedy, John Dossett, Sidney DuPont, A.J. Shively, Nathaniel Stampley, Gabrielle McClinton, Jacob Fishel and Kevin Dennis.

The production will also feature Karen Burthwright, Kennedy Caughell, Dwayne Clark, Garrett Coleman, Colin Cunliffe, Chloe Davis, Bernard Dotson, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Sam Edgerly, Shiloh Goodin, Jacobi Hall, Sean Jenness, Jay McKenzie, Ben Michael, Jason Oremus, Eilis Quinn, Sara Sheperd, Lael van Keuren, Sir Brock Warren and Hailee Kaleem Wright. Additional casting will be announced later.

Within this galvanizing story of racial harmony undone by a country at war with itself, audiences will meet the denizens of a local saloon called Paradise Square in this show. They include Nelly Freeman (Kalukango), the indomitable Black woman who owns it; Annie O’Brien (Kennedy), her Irish-Catholic sister-in-law and her Black minister husband, Rev. Samuel Jacob Lewis (Stampley); Owen Duignan (Shively), a conflicted newly arrived Irish immigrant; Washington Henry (DuPont), a fearless freedom seeker; Frederic Tiggens (Dossett), an anti-abolitionist political boss, and Milton Moore (Fishel), a penniless songwriter trying to capture it all. They have conflicting notions of what it means to be an American while living through one of the most tumultuous eras in our country’s history.

Paradise Square features a book co-written by Craig Lucas, Marcus Gardley, Christina Anderson and Kirwan. The music is by Jason Howland and Kirwan, with lyrics by Nathan Tysen and additional material by Masi Asare. Graciela Daniele provides the musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

The creative team includes scenic designer Allen Moyer, costume designer Toni-Leslie James, lighting designer Donald Holder, sound designer Jon Weston, hair and wig designer Matthew B. Armentrout, associate choreographers Talli Jackson and Gelan Lambert and projection designer Wendall K. Harrington with special effects by Gregory Meeh. Irish and Hammerstep choreography is by Garrett Coleman and Jason Oremus.

The world premiere of Paradise Square was produced in January 2019 by Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The musical is based on Hard Times, conceived by Kirwan, which was originally presented off-Broadway in 2012. The musical is being produced on Broadway by Tony winner Garth Drabinsky.

Cast Announced for Paradise Square on Broadway, Marking Return of Producer Garth Drabinsky +

By David Gordon
June 7, 2021

Casting has been announced for the Broadway premiere of the new musical Paradise Square, which will run at the Barrymore Theatre beginning February 22, 2022. It will open on Sunday, March 20, 2022.

The show is produced by Garth H. Drabinsky, the Tony-winning producer behind Kiss of the Spider Woman.

The cast will be headed by Joaquina Kalukango, Chilina Kennedy, John Dossett, Sidney DuPont, A.J. Shively, Nathaniel Stampley, Gabrielle McClinton, Jacob Fishel, and Kevin Dennis. In the ensemble are Karen Burthwright, Kennedy Caughell, Dwayne Clark, Garrett Coleman, Colin Cunliffe, Chloe Davis, Bernard Dotson, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Sam Edgerly, Shiloh Goodin, Jacobi Hall, Sean Jenness, Jay McKenzie, Ben Michael, Jason Oremus, Eilis Quinn, Sara Sheperd, Lael van Keuren, Sir Brock Warren, and Hailee Kaleem Wright. Additional casting will be announced shortly.

Paradise Square is set in the Five Points neighborhood of New York City circa 1863 and is about a community of poor Irish immigrants and free Blacks who survive the war years and Draft Riots with raucous dance contests in neighborhood bars and dance halls. "It is here in the Five Points where tap dancing was born, as Irish step dancing joyously competed with Black American Juba," according to a press statement.

The book is a collaboration by Christina Anderson (Good Goods), Marcus Gardley (The House That Will Not Stand), Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza), and Larry Kirwan (lead singer of Black 47). The score of Paradise Square is by composer Jason Howland (who did the arrangements for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) and lyricist Nathan Tysen (Tuck Everlasting). Additional material is provided by Masi Asare (Monsoon Wedding) and Larry Kirwan. The musical features original songs as well as a reimagining of the songs of Stephen Foster ("Camptown Races"), who was writing and living in the Five Points at the time.

Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project) directs, with choreography by two-time Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones (Spring Awakening, Fela!). Ten-time Tony Award nominee Graciela Daniele (Ragtime, Once on This Island) will provide musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones. The production will have scenic design by Allen Moyer, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Donald Holder, and sound design by Jon Weston. Dramaturgy is by Thulani Davis and Sydné Mahone. Projection design is by Wendall K. Harrington. Special effects are by Gregory Meeh. Hair and wig design is by Matthew B. Armentrout. Associate choreographers are Talli Jackson and Gelan Lambert. Irish and Hammerstep choreography is by Garrett Coleman and Jason Oremus. Anne Allan is Associate Producer and Senior Resident Director. Zachary Florence is Associate Producer. Jeff Chrzczon is General Manager. Casting is by Stewart/Whitley, CSA.

Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre will host the pre-Broadway run, November 2-December 5.

Joaquina Kalukango Will Star in PARADISE SQUARE Opening on Broadway March 20 +

By Stephi Wild
June 7, 2021

Casting and performance dates have been announced for the Broadway run of Paradise Square, which will open on Broadway on Sunday, March 20, 2022 at The Shubert Organization's Barrymore Theatre.

Tony Award nominee Joaquina Kalukango (Slave Play, One Night in Miami), will lead the cast of the new musical. The production will come to Broadway directly following a five-week engagement (November 2-December 5, 2021) at Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre (24 West Randolph Street).

The musical arrives with Tony winner Garth H. Drabinsky attached as producer.

Ms. Kalukango is a 2020 Tony Award nominee for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her role as Kaneisha in Slave Play. She has also starred on Broadway in The Color Purple, Holler If Ya Hear Me and Godspell. Her film and television credits include the role of Betty X in Amazon's One Night in Miami (SAG Award nomination, Cast in a Motion Picture), HBO's "Lovecraft Country" and the Netflix series, "When They See Us."

Paradise Square will also star Chilina Kennedy (over 1200 performances in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway; International tour of The Band's Visit), Tony Award nominee John Dossett (Broadway's Pippin, Newsies, Gypsy, Ragtime), Sidney DuPont (Broadway's Beautiful: The Carole King Musical; National tours of Memphis, A Chorus Line), A.J. Shively (Broadway's La Cage aux Folles, Bright Star), Nathaniel Stampley (Broadway's The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, The Color Purple), Gabrielle McClinton (Broadway's Pippin, Chicago), Jacob Fishel (Broadway's Fiddler on the Roof), and Kevin Dennis (Canadian productions of Young Frankenstein, Assassins).

The creative team for Paradise Square features direction by two-time Tony Award nominee Moisés Kaufman (I Am My Own Wife, The Laramie Project), choreography by two-time Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones (Spring Awakening, Fela!), and a book by Christina Anderson (Good Goods, Inked Baby), Marcus Gardley (The House That Will Not Stand), Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza) and Larry Kirwan (lead singer of Black 47). Ten-time Tony Award nominee Graciela Daniele (Ragtime, Once on This Island) will provide musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

The score of Paradise Square is by the team of Grammy and Emmy Award winner Jason Howland (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Little Women - The Musical) and Nathan Tysen (Amélie, Tuck Everlasting), with additional material provided by Masi Asare (Monsoon Wedding, The Family Resemblance) and Mr. Kirwan. The musical features original songs as well as a reimagining of the songs of Stephen Foster, who was writing and living in the Five Points at the time.

Paradise Square is produced by Garth H. Drabinsky (Kiss of the Spider Woman (Tony Award, Best Musical), Show Boat (Tony Award, Best Revival of a Musical), Ragtime, Fosse (Tony Award, Best Musical), Parade). Mr. Drabinsky's longtime colleague, documentary filmmaker Peter LeDonne (the Academy Award-nominated Curtain Call and Sister Rose's Passion) is co-producing.

The production will also feature Karen Burthwright, Kennedy Caughell, Dwayne Clark, Garrett Coleman, Colin Cunliffe, Chloe Davis, Bernard Dotson, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Sam Edgerly, Shiloh Goodin, Jacobi Hall, Sean Jenness, Jay McKenzie, Ben Michael, Jason Oremus, Eilis Quinn, Sara Sheperd, Lael Van Keuren, Sir Brock Warren and Hailee Kaleem Wright. Additional casting will be announced shortly.

The multi-award-winning creative team features scenic design by Allen Moyer, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Donald Holder, and sound design by Jon Weston. Dramaturgy is by Thulani Davis and Sydné Mahone. Projection design is by Wendall K. Harrington. Special effects are by Gregory Meeh. Hair and wig design is by Matthew B. Armentrout. Associate choreographers are Talli Jackson and Gelan Lambert. Irish and Hammerstep choreography is by Garrett Coleman and Jason Oremus. Anne Allan is Associate Producer and Senior Resident Director. Zachary Florence is Associate Producer. Jeff Chrzczon is General Manager. Casting is by Stewart/Whitley, CSA.

New Musical About 19th Century New York Plans Broadway Run +

“Paradise Square,” a new musical that explores race relations in 19th-century New York, plans to open on Broadway next winter ... “Paradise Square” is a comeback bid by storied Canadian producer Garth Drabinsky, who won three Tony Awards in the 1990s ... The musical is to star Joaquina Kalukango ... Chilina Kennedy ... John Dossett ... Sidney DuPont ... A.J. Shively ... Nathaniel Stampley ... and Jacob Fishel ... The Broadway run is scheduled to begin previews Feb. 22 and to open March 20 at the Ethel Barrymore Theater.”

‘Paradise Square,’ produced by Garth Drabinsky, announces Broadway run +

By Caitlin Huston
June 7, 2021

“Paradise Square,” a new musical about race relations in New York during the 1860s, has announced a Broadway run at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre this winter.

The musical, produced by Garth Drabinsky, will star Joaquina Kalukango (“Slave Play”) in a run starting Feb. 22, 2022 and an opening night on March 20. The musical will come to Broadway after a five-week engagement starting this November at Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre.

The story takes place in the Five Points neighborhood of New York in 1863, at which time Irish immigrants, free Black Americans and those who had escaped slavery co-existed together. The production credits the mixture of communities in Five Points with the creation of tap dance.

Additional cast members include Chilina Kennedy (“Beautiful”), John Dossett (“Pippin”), 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.

“Paradise Square” features songs by composer Stephen Foster, who lived in the Five Points neighborhood of the Lower East Side during the musical’s time period, as well as original songs by musical theater writers Jason Howland, Nathan Tysen, Masi Asare and Larry Kirwan, lead singer of the rock band Black 47. Kirwan’s original musical “Hard Times” provided the basis for “Paradise Square.”

The world premiere of “Paradise Square” was produced at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in January 2019.

The musical is directed by Moisés Kaufman, director of “The Laramie Project,” and features choreography by Bill T. Jones and a book by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Kirwan.

‘Paradise Square’ gets Broadway transfer at Barrymore Theatre +

By Sophie Thomas
June 7, 2021

Following a 2018 world premiere and an upcoming engagement in Chicago, Paradise Square will receive its Broadway premiere in 2022. Paradise Square will begin previews at the Barrymore Theatre on Feb. 22, 2022, ahead of an opening night on Mar. 20, 2022.

Set in 19th-century New York, African Americans and Irish Americans live side by side,, eventually finding harmony with one another. After a brief period of co-existing, communities danced together; Irish step dancing and Black American Juba took to the floor. But when President Lincoln calls the first Federal Draft, will friendships in the Five Points prevail?

Joaquina Kalukango will play Nelly Freeman, currently nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Slave Play. Casting includes Chilina Kennedy, John Dossett, Sidney DuPont, A.J. Shively, Nathaniel Stampley, Gabrielle McClinton, Jacob Fishel and Kevin Dennis, Karen Burthwright, Kennedy Caughell, Dwayne Clark, Garrett Coleman, Colin Cunliffe, Chloe Davis, Bernard Dotson, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Sam Edgerly, Shiloh Goodin, Jacobi Hall, Sean Jenness, Jay McKenzie, Ben Michael, Jason Oremus, Eilis Quinn, Sara Sheperd, Lael van Keuren, Sir Brock Warren and Hailee Kaleem Wright. Additional casting is to be announced.

Paradise Square features an original book by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan. Music and lyrics are by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen, as well as inspiration from Stephen Foster, who lived in Five Points during the 19th century.

Direction is by Moisés Kaufman, who is also directing Seven Deadly Sins this summer. Choreography is by Bill T. Jones with scenic design by Allen Moyer, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Donald Holder, and sound design by Jon Weston.

Paradise Square made its world premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in January 2019. Later this year, Paradise Square is at Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre for five weeks, ahead of its Broadway run.

Paradise Square is at the Barrymore Theatre from February 22.

PARADISE SQUARE Announces Broadway Opening, Starring Tony Award Nominee Joaquina Kalukango +

By Zack Reiser
June 7, 2021

Tony Award nominee Joaquina Kalukango (Slave Play, One Night in Miami) will lead the cast of the new musical Paradise Square, which will open on Broadway on Sunday, March 20, 2022 at the Barrymore Theatre. Previews will begin on February 22, 2022. The production will come to Broadway directly following a five-week engagement (November 2-December 5, 2021) at Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre.

Ms. Kalukango is a 2020 Tony Award nominee for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her role as Kaneisha in Slave Play. She has also starred on Broadway in The Color Purple, Holler If Ya Hear Me and Godspell. Her film and television credits include the role of Betty X in Amazon's One Night in Miami (SAG Award nomination, Cast in a Motion Picture), HBO's "Lovecraft Country" and the Netflix series, "When They See Us."

Paradise Square will also star Chilina Kennedy (over 1200 performances in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway; International tour of The Band's Visit), Tony Award nominee John Dossett (Broadway's Pippin, Newsies, Gypsy, Ragtime), Sidney DuPont (Broadway's Beautiful: The Carole King Musical; National tours of Memphis, A Chorus Line), A.J. Shively (Broadway's La Cage aux Folles, Bright Star), Nathaniel Stampley (Broadway's The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, The Color Purple), Gabrielle McClinton (Broadway's Pippin, Chicago), Jacob Fishel (Broadway's Fiddler on the Roof), and Kevin Dennis (Canadian productions of Young Frankenstein, Assassins).

The distinguished creative team for Paradise Square features direction by two-time Tony Award nominee Moisés Kaufman (I Am My Own Wife, The Laramie Project), choreography by two-time Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones (Spring Awakening, Fela!), and a book by Christina Anderson (Good Goods, Inked Baby), Marcus Gardley (The House That Will Not Stand), Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza) and Larry Kirwan (lead singer of Black 47). Ten-time Tony Award nominee Graciela Daniele (Ragtime, Once on This Island) will provide musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

The score of Paradise Square is by the team of Grammy and Emmy Award winner Jason Howland (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Little Women - The Musical) and Nathan Tysen (Amélie, Tuck Everlasting), with additional material provided by Masi Asare (Monsoon Wedding, The Family Resemblance) and Mr. Kirwan. The musical features original songs as well as a reimagining of the songs of Stephen Foster, who was writing and living in the Five Points at the time.

Paradise Square is produced by Garth H. Drabinsky (Kiss of the Spider Woman (Tony Award, Best Musical), Show Boat (Tony Award, Best Revival of a Musical), Ragtime, Fosse (Tony Award, Best Musical), Parade). Mr. Drabinsky’s longtime colleague, documentary filmmaker Peter LeDonne (the Academy Award-nominated Curtain Call and Sister Rose’s Passion) is co-producing.

The production will also feature Karen Burthwright, Kennedy Caughell, Dwayne Clark, Garrett Coleman, Colin Cunliffe, Chloe Davis, Bernard Dotson, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Sam Edgerly, Shiloh Goodin, Jacobi Hall, Sean Jenness, Jay McKenzie, Ben Michael, Jason Oremus, Eilis Quinn, Sara Sheperd, Lael van Keuren, Sir Brock Warren and Hailee Kaleem Wright. Additional casting will be announced shortly.

The multi-award-winning creative team features scenic design by Allen Moyer, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Donald Holder, and sound design by Jon Weston. Dramaturgy is by Thulani Davisand Sydné Mahone. Projection design is by Wendall K. Harrington. Special effects are by Gregory Meeh. Hair and wig design is by Matthew B. Armentrout. Associate choreographers are Talli Jackson and Gelan Lambert. Irish and Hammerstep choreography is by Garrett Coleman and Jason Oremus. Anne Allan is Associate Producer and Senior Resident Director. Zachary Florence is Associate Producer. Jeff Chrzczon is General Manager. Casting is by Stewart/Whitley, CSA.

New York City. 1863. The Civil War raged on. An extraordinary thing occurred amid the dangerous streets and crumbling tenement houses of the Five Points, the notorious 19th-century Lower Manhattan slum. For many years, Irish immigrants escaping the devastation of the Great Famine settled alongside free-born Black Americans and those who escaped slavery, arriving by means of the Underground Railroad. The Irish, relegated at that time to the lowest rung of America’s social status, received a sympathetic welcome from their Black neighbors (who enjoyed only slightly better treatment in the burgeoning industrial-era city). The two communities co-existed, intermarried, raised families, and shared their cultures in this unlikeliest of neighborhoods.

The amalgamation between the communities took its most exuberant form with raucous dance contests on the floors of the neighborhood bars and dance halls. It is here in the Five Points where tap dancing was born, as Irish step dancing joyously competed with Black American Juba.

But this racial equilibrium would come to a sharp and brutal end when President Lincoln’s need to institute the first Federal Draft to support the Union Army would incite the deadly NY Draft Riots of July 1863.

Within this galvanizing story of racial harmony undone by a country at war with itself, we meet the denizens of a local saloon called Paradise Square: Nelly Freeman (Joaquina Kalukango), the indomitable Black woman who owns it; Annie O’Brien (Chilina Kennedy), her Irish-Catholic sister-in-law and her Black minister husband, Rev. Samuel Jacob Lewis (Nathaniel Stampley); Owen Duignan (A.J. Shively), a conflicted newly arrived Irish immigrant; Washington Henry (Sidney DuPont), a fearless freedom seeker; Frederic Tiggens (John Dossett), an anti-abolitionist political boss, and Milton Moore (Jacob Fishel), a penniless songwriter trying to capture it all. They have conflicting notions of what it means to be an American while living through one of the most tumultuous eras in our country’s history.

Paradise Square, A New Musical, announces cast & Broadway premiere +

June 7, 2021

Announced today, Tony Award-nominee Joaquina Kalukango (Slave Play, One Night in Miami), will lead the cast of the new musical, Paradise Square, which will open on Broadway on Sunday, March 20, 2022, at the Shubert Organization’s Barrymore Theatre. Previews will begin on February 22, 2022. The production will come to Broadway directly following a five-week engagement (November 2–December 5, 2021) at Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre.

Ms. Kalukango is a 2020 Tony Award nominee for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her role as Kaneisha in Slave Play. She has also starred on Broadway in The Color PurpleHoller If Ya Hear Me, and Godspell. Her film and television credits include the role of Betty X in Amazon’s One Night in Miami (SAG Award nomination, Cast in a Motion Picture), HBO’s Lovecraft Country and the Netflix series, When They See Us.

Paradise Square will also star Chilina Kennedy (over 1200 performances in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway; International tour of The Band’s Visit), Tony Award nominee John Dossett (Broadway’s PippinNewsiesGypsyRagtime), Sidney DuPont (Broadway’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical; National tours of MemphisA Chorus Line), A.J. Shively (Broadway’s La Cage aux FollesBright Star), Nathaniel Stampley (Broadway’s The Gershwins’ Porgy and BessThe Color Purple), Gabrielle McClinton (Broadway’s PippinChicago), Jacob Fishel  (Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof), and Kevin Dennis (Canadian productions of Young FrankensteinAssassins).

The distinguished creative team for Paradise Square features direction by two-time Tony Award nominee Moisés Kaufman (I Am My Own Wife, The Laramie Project), choreography by two-time Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones (Spring Awakening, Fela!), and a book by Christina Anderson (Good Goods, Inked Baby), Marcus Gardley (The House That Will Not Stand), Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza) and Larry Kirwan (lead singer of Black 47). Ten-time Tony Award nominee Graciela Daniele (Ragtime, Once on This Island) will provide musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

The score of Paradise Square is by the team of Grammy and Emmy Award winner Jason Howland (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Little Women - The Musical) and Nathan Tysen (Amélie, Tuck Everlasting), with additional material provided by Masi Asare (Monsoon Wedding, The Family Resemblance) and Mr. Kirwan. The musical features original songs as well as a reimagining of the songs of Stephen Foster, who was writing and living in the Five Points at the time.

Paradise Square is produced by Garth H. Drabinsky (Kiss of the Spider Woman (Tony Award, Best Musical), Show Boat (Tony Award, Best Revival of a Musical), Ragtime, Fosse (Tony Award, Best Musical), Parade). Mr. Drabinsky’s longtime colleague, documentary filmmaker Peter LeDonne (the Academy Award-nominated Curtain Call and Sister Rose’s Passion) is co-producing.

The production will also feature Karen Burthwright, Kennedy Caughell, Dwayne Clark, Garrett Coleman, Colin Cunliffe, Chloe Davis, Bernard Dotson, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Sam Edgerly, Shiloh Goodin, Jacobi Hall, Sean Jenness, Jay McKenzie, Ben Michael, Jason Oremus, Eilis Quinn, Sara Sheperd, Lael van Keuren, Sir Brock Warren and Hailee Kaleem Wright. Additional casting will be announced shortly.

The multi-award-winning creative team features scenic design by Allen Moyer, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Donald Holder, and sound design by Jon Weston. Dramaturgy is by Thulani Davis and Sydné Mahone. Projection design is by Wendall K. Harrington. Special effects are by Gregory Meeh. Hair and wig design is by Matthew B. Armentrout. Associate choreographers are Talli Jackson and Gelan Lambert. Irish and Hammerstep choreography is by Garrett Coleman and Jason Oremus. Anne Allan is Associate Producer and Senior Resident Director. Zachary Florence is Associate Producer. Jeff Chrzczon is General Manager. Casting is by Stewart/Whitley, CSA.

Paradise Square, A New Musical, sets pre-Broadway run in Chicago +

By Lamont Williams
June 7, 2021

Paradise Square is an original musical from a creative team that includes Moisés Kaufman, Bill T. Jones, Craig Lucas and Black 47 singer Larry Kirwan. It will be the first major pre-Broadway show to open in Chicago after the pandemic shutdown.

The newly announced cast includes Tony Award nominee for Slave Play, Joaquina Kalukango, who stars with Chilina Kennedy (over 1200 performances in Beautiful on Broadway), Tony Award nominee John Dossett (Pippin, Gypsy, Ragtime), Sidney DuPont (Broadway’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical; National tours of Memphis, A Chorus Line), A.J. Shively (Broadway’s La Cage aux Folles, Bright Star), Nathaniel Stampley (Broadway’s The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, The Color Purple), Gabrielle McClinton (Broadway’s Pippin, Chicago), Jacob Fishel (Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof), and Kevin Dennis (Canadian productions of Young Frankenstein, Assassins).

New York City. 1863. The Civil War raged on. An extraordinary thing occurred amid the dangerous streets and crumbling tenement houses of the Five Points, the notorious 19th-century Lower Manhattan slum. For many years, Irish immigrants escaping the devastation of the Great Famine settled alongside free-born Black Americans and those who escaped slavery, arriving by means of the Underground Railroad. The Irish, relegated at that time to the lowest rung of America’s social status, received a sympathetic welcome from their Black neighbors (who enjoyed only slightly better treatment in the burgeoning industrial-era city). The two communities co-existed, intermarried, raised families, and shared their cultures in this unlikeliest of neighborhoods.

The amalgamation between the communities took its most exuberant form with raucous dance contests on the floors of the neighborhood bars and dance halls. It is here in the Five Points where tap dancing was born, as Irish step dancing joyously competed with Black American Juba.

But this racial equilibrium would come to a sharp and brutal end when President Lincoln’s need to institute the first Federal Draft to support the Union Army would incite the deadly NY Draft Riots of July 1863.

Within this galvanizing story of racial harmony undone by a country at war with itself, we meet the denizens of a local saloon called Paradise Square: Nelly Freeman (Joaquina Kalukango), the indomitable Black woman who owns it; Annie O’Brien (Chilina Kennedy), her Irish-Catholic sister-in-law and her Black minister husband, Rev. Samuel Jacob Lewis (Nathaniel Stampley); Owen Duignan (A.J. Shively), a conflicted newly arrived Irish immigrant; Washington Henry (Sidney DuPont), a fearless freedom seeker; Frederic Tiggens (John Dossett), an anti-abolitionist political boss, and Milton Moore (Jacob Fishel), a penniless songwriter trying to capture it all. They have conflicting notions of what it means to be an American while living through one of the most tumultuous eras in our country’s history.

The world premiere was produced in January 2019 by Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The musical is based on Hard Times, conceived by Mr. Kirwan, which was originally presented at the intimate Off-Broadway theatre, Nancy Manocherian’s the cell, in 2012.

With visceral and nuanced staging and choreography that captures the pulsating energy when Black and Irish cultures meet, Paradise Square depicts an overlooked true-life moment when hope and possibility shone bright.

The musical is produced by Garth H. Drabinsky, marking a return of the once ubiquitous Canadian theater executive. Drabinsky, whose previous Broadway productions included Kiss of the Spider Woman, Show Boat, Ragtime and Fosse, is teamed on Paradise Square with longtime colleague Peter LeDonne, who co-produces.

The creative team features direction by Kaufman (I Am My Own Wife, The Laramie Project), choreography by Jones (Spring Awakening, Fela!), book by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Lucas and Kirwan. Graciela Daniele (Ragtime, Once on This Island) will provide the musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

The score is by the team of Jason Howland (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) and Nathan Tysen (Tuck Everlasting), with additional material provided by Masi Asare and Kirwan. The musical features original songs as well as a reimagining of the songs of Stephen Foster, who was writing and living in the Five Points at the time.

The world premiere of Paradise Square was produced in January 2019 by Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The musical is based on Hard Times, originally conceived by Mr. Kirwan, which was originally presented Off Broadway in 2012.

Joaquina Kalukango to star in PARADISE SQUARE, A New Musical +

By Jenny Ell
June 7, 2021

Tony Award nominee Joaquina Kalukango has been confirmed to lead the cast of new musical, Paradise Square, which will open at Broadway’s Barrymore Theatre in March 2022, following a five-week engagement in Chicago later this year.

Kalukango is a 2020 Tony Award nominee for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her role as Kaneisha in Slave Play. She has also starred on Broadway in The Color Purple, Holler If Ya Hear Me and Godspell.

Paradise Square will also star Chilina Kennedy (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, The Band's Visit), Tony Award nominee John Dossett (Pippin, Newsies), Sidney DuPont (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Memphis), A.J. Shively (La Cage aux Folles, Bright Star), Nathaniel Stampley (The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, The Color Purple), Gabrielle McClinton (Pippin, Chicago), Jacob Fishel (Fiddler on the Roof), and Kevin Dennis (Young Frankenstein, Assassins).

The production will also feature Karen Burthwright, Kennedy Caughell, Dwayne Clark, Garrett Coleman, Colin Cunliffe, Chloe Davis, Bernard Dotson, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Sam Edgerly, Shiloh Goodin, Jacobi Hall, Sean Jenness, Jay McKenzie, Ben Michael, Jason Oremus, Eilis Quinn, Sara Sheperd, Lael van Keuren, Sir Brock Warren and Hailee Kaleem Wright. Additional casting will be announced shortly.

The creative team includes director and two-time Tony Award nominee Moisés Kaufman, choreographer and two-time Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones, and book writers Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan. Ten-time Tony Award nominee Graciela Daniele will also provide musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

The score is by the team of Grammy and Emmy Award winner Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen, with additional material provided by Masi Asare and Mr. Kirwan. The musical features original songs as well as a reimagining of the songs of Stephen Foster, who was writing and living in the Five Points at the time.

The multi-award-winning creative team features set design by Allen Moyer, costumes by Toni-Leslie James, lighting by Donald Holder, and sound by Jon Weston.

4 new Broadway openings: Lehman Trilogy, Skeleton Crew, Paradise Square, How I Learned to Drive +

By Jonathan Mandell
June 7, 2021

The opening date of four new Broadway productions were announced this week, bringing the number to 32. See details in my Broadway 2021-2021 Season Preview Guide, organized chronologically by opening date: ... Paradise Square, a musical about the New York draft riots of 1863, starring Joaquina Kalukango (March 20).

In Chicago, the musical ‘Paradise Square’ nears its big pre-Broadway opening in a changed world +

by Chris Jones
October 28, 2021

Producer Garth Drabinsky sweeps his hand across a recording studio in Midtown Manhattan. “You see the fiddler?” he asks. “Maybe the best fiddle player on Broadway.”

He shouts toward his videographer, whose job it is to seed the songs of a risky new $11.5 million musical called “Paradise Square” into the zeitgeist: “Be sure you get the harp.”

He leans in again: “She’s just a sensational harpist.”

There is the briefest of pauses as he answers another unasked question.

“Actually, this whole orchestra? Crème de la crème. Crème de la crème.”

The actors begin to sing a stirring anthem with roots in 19th century Manhattan but clear contemporary relevance following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. It’s called “Breathe Easy.”

“Take a look at those lyrics. Alicia Keys should take this song and find a duet partner,” Drabinsky says, sliding over his script as he stabs at the words with his finger. “I think this is going to become a hymn for the world.”

Just that.

Producers like the 71-year-old Canadian impresario used to walk tall, exhibiting their natural gifts for promotion, storytelling and self-belief, micromanaging every last detail as they reveled in not just their competence but their own expansive personalities. The smartest of them, and Drabinsky indisputably was among that number, made sure they stood for top quality: huge companies, epic production values, ambitious themes, emotional journeys, rich spectacles, colossal advertising budgets, blowout opening night parties, not so much shows as must-see theatrical events. Always for all demographics. Great producers would rather open a vein than admit their show was for one particular subset of humanity when all could be buying tickets.

Or, as Drabisnky succinctly puts it, “I only know how to do shows this way.”

Just as well, perhaps.

In Drabinsky’s case, his producing chops have resulted in famous, lauded productions of “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Show Boat,” “Ragtime” and “Fosse,” among others, along with the restoration of what is now known as the Lyric Theatre on Broadway, the home of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” And if one man could be said to be the father of the Chicago Theater District in the city’s Loop, Drabinsky is the closest to that guy.

He put Donny Osmond in “Joseph” at the Chicago Theatre, running it successfully for so long that Osmond moved to Wilmette and put his kids in school here. He restored the former Oriental Theatre (now Nederlander) to shimmering glory, snagging sponsorship from Ford Motor Company and sparking subsequent restorations of the Cadillac Palace Theatre and the former Shubert Theatre (now CIBC), restoring nighttime traffic to the Loop to the delight of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Along with Cameron Mackintosh, Drabinsky taught Chicago how to market long-running shows, to insist on Broadway quality for its signature attractions and embrace its status as the capital of Midwest live entertainment.

“Chicago,” he says, “always has been very hospitable to me.” The reality is that Chicago owes Drabinsky more than Drabinsky owes Chicago.

But Broadway has changed by its own design and the proud street has been shrunk by dint of near-impossible circumstances, mostly beyond its own control.

Producers mostly have been stripped of their personalities, replaced either by corporations or naturally cautious individuals wary of becoming a target by weighing in on something not to be weighed in on, and thus talking only off the record, carefully parsing every word, hyperbole replaced by fear. Instead of the boss pushing a project to a reporter, one superlative at a time, faceless marketing consultants have taken their place with data-driven, social-media strategies, shrouded in tech-driven anonymity.

And, in a minority of cases, producers have behaved badly, allowing rigor to morph into abuse and thus upending their own profession.

Drabinsky, in fact, went to prison for fraud and forgery, following a 2009 conviction in Canada, alongside his former partner Myron Gottlieb, for operating a phony accounting system for his box offices and defrauding investors of some $500 million Canadian dollars. In essence, he kept two sets of books, a technique, it has been noted, not unlike that of Max Bialystock in “The Producers.”

Broadway’s focus of late has been on protections and better conditions for its workers; Drabinsky’s crimes mostly defrauded the already rich, meaning they haven’t exactly been at the center of progressive Broadway’s current slate of concerns. Still, Drabinsky was for a while unable to travel to the United States on fear of being arrested as a fugitive. And the rich have long memories. Sources say careful attention was paid to ensure “Paradise Square” had its $11.5 million budget in place.

It did. Thus, improbably, extraordinarily, remarkably, Drabinsky is back.

Time served. U.S. authorities fully satisfied.

Demonstrably, he is unbowed.

Not by changing times. Not by inflated costs. Not even by COVID-19 and its making the already daunting prospect of going out of town to create a new musical from scratch infinitely more challenging. No other producer has tried to create a massive new Broadway musical — with a cast of 38 and an orchestra of 14 — in these circumstances, let alone bring everyone “out of town,” in the New York parlance. Drabinsky’s peers have just been trying to stay alive.

Not only has Drabinsky returned to the theater he restored (the James M. Nederlander Theatre), but his “Paradise Square” begins tryout preview performances in Chicago Nov. 2 and opens Nov. 17. Its March 20 Broadway opening is set.

Unlike most musicals, the show is not based on a hit movie nor on the life and work of a pop star with a built-in fan base. Already it has had many gestations and artistic contributions but it is, in essence, the 1860s story of the people of Five Points, a depressed but culturally vital neighborhood in Lower Manhattan.

Located close to what is now known as Chinatown, Five Points was where poor Irish immigrants and free Black Americans coexisted in what the show posits as a unique, cross-cultural moment, where Irish step dancing joined with tap (a theme that was also part of the original “Riverdance” show) and interracial relationships flourished. In “Paradise Square,” Five Points functions as a kind of fleeting nirvana, a vista of what America might have been, only for the racism and ugliness of the post-Civil War era in America to effect its inevitable, subsequent destruction.

It so happens that Stephen Foster, the composer of such songs as “Camptown Races,” “Oh! Susanna” and “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” died in Five Points as a penniless alcoholic, just before the Draft Riots that became central to the show. It is with Foster’s music that “Paradise Square” began.

In the first version of the show, penned by Larry Kirwan, Foster was a character and the show, known as “Hard Times: An American Musical” was built around his music. That show was produced off-off Broadway in 2012 and it was how Drabinsky first became involved.

But it quickly became apparent that Foster’s music alone wouldn’t sustain what Drabinsky wanted to do, given that he saw in this piece something of a precursor to his other two epics of American historical change, “Showboat” and “Ragtime.” Before another staging at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2019, he brought in new A-list people: the composer Jason Howland, the director Moisés Kaufman, the writers Craig Lucas, Marcus Gardley and Christina Anderson, the choreographer Bill T. Jones. Some of those creatives have come and gone through different versions and others have taken over their work: the complex credit in Chicago will read, book by Anderson, Gardley, Lucas and Kirwan; music by Howland; lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare; additional music by Kirwan inspired in part of Foster; directed by Kaufman and choreographed by Jones. Royalty checks will be split a lot of different ways.

“We’ve all been working this show for eight years,” says Kaufman. “Initially, Foster’s music was more present in the musical and so was his story. But it became apparent to us that the more interesting story here was in that saloon in ‘Paradise Square,’ the social experiment that was going on in Five Points and people trying to survive in that environment. In the end, Foster became a secondary character. What we see now is a group of outcasts who generated their own social contract, at a time when social contracts were nonexistent and, over the course of the show, we see that contract break down and have to face the reality of the outside world.”

And, although some of Foster’s music survived, there is now an original score.

“Frankly,” Howland says, “many of Foster’s songs were minstrel songs. The language now is untenable. And these songs are not the right songs to ask Black actors to sing. He stole this music and profited from its ideas. Foster might have been an important figure in American music, but we’re not going to get very far singing, ‘Doo dah, Do dah.’ Instead, we now have a score that gets harmonically more complex as the show gets more thematically complex. We have songs that talk about pain, loss, abuse and suffering, about the unfairness of poverty. But we’ve also tried to juxtapose the cultural narratives. You might get one person playing a fiddler, another a tambourine, another the bones. Musical elements and ideas come from both Irish culture and African-American culture. There was protest dance and protest music on all sides. We are aware of what’s at stake in terms of the stories we are telling and how we are telling them; it’s both a unique opportunity and a unique responsibility.”

COVID-19 has, without question, made everything harder. There is a rigorous (and costly) in-house testing regimen and a mask protocol. Just to satisfy COVID protocols, Drabinsky had to hire a staff of medical techs and jump through countless other hoops.

“Rehearsing in masks is difficult,” said Chilina Kennedy, the Canadian star playing one of the lead roles. “We’re in theater. We’re not accountants. But we can take our masks off when we are performing and everyone has been very, very careful. And, luckily, this is a very warm group of people. I don’t want to jinx anything, but I feel like we can get there.”

Kaufman says the whole experience has been like “trying to build a gigantic skyscraper in five weeks.”

“When we first got back into the room,” he says, “all of a sudden there was a room full of people, there was a sense of trepidation. Actors need to breathe to do what they do. I’m always trying to talk to large groups of actors and the masks get in the way of your ability to see people’s faces. It has not been easy.”

“The thing I love about this musical is that it now speaks to this moment.” says Joaquina Kalukango, a recent Tony Award nominee for “Slave Play” and now the star of “Paradise Square.” “Honestly, I didn’t think I would come back to the theater but then this wonderful musical came into my life.”

“This is a time for Black people when we just can’t catch a breath,” Kalukango says. “This cast is just so courageous.”

“The show looks back on the past in order to make the present and future better,” Howland says. “Isn’t that what we all are trying to do?”

That might be an understatement.

Weeks later, the company is crowded into a basement rehearsal room in Chicago, testing regimens complete, masks coming and going as the rules require. The show has, not unlike “Ragtime,” two distinct ensembles, one white and one Black. On this day, the Black members of the company are rehearsing “Breathe Easy.” The stresses of the song, and of the moment, are apparent. But the harmony abides. The mutual support is palpable.

Drabinsky now has an uphill battle to coax back audiences and sell tickets. There are discount ducats and even the promise of a free dinner with every purchase, all strategies designed to help Chicago audiences take a chance on an unknown show, and propel something forward.

But the show’s biggest asset surely is the belief of its old-school producer, a man with a compliment for every artist in the room, a stake in their futures, a determination to return to Broadway at a level no less than the one before his prior exit. And, above all, an unshakable conviction that this one show can change a lousy world.

“Looking back eight or nine months ago, I think nobody really could have anticipated just how hard this would be,” he says, smiling. “But I thought to myself, well, there sure won’t be many other new shows opening now. Not like this one. So why not?”

The World According to Garth: Returning to Chicago with Paradise Square, a Pre-Broadway Race Musical +

by Dennis Polkow
October 28, 2021

It’s a warm fall Saturday morning in downtown Chicago. Horns are blaring. Pedestrians scurry by. Few notice that the rolling lights of the marquee of the Nederlander Theatre are on so early in the day, impressively illuminating the “Paradise Square” moniker.

In the alley behind the theater, huge, isolated pieces of black scenery temporarily block easy passage, gleaming in the bright light of day. Escorted through the stage door, a production assistant guides anyone entering, whether cast, crew or curious critic, to the COVID test station. A quick, long swab up each nostril; results in ten minutes.

Going into the theater while waiting for results, a crew is onstage putting together pieces of what is obviously a complex set. “It will take them another week to fully load in,” volunteers the assistant. A cast member introduces himself and talks about the dance warmups needed for the show. “You’re COVID-free!” comes the verdict.

Descending deep within the bowels of the building, a small elevator takes us, it is said, to the lowest level of the theater. Large, colorful framed posters of past productions line the basement walls.

Entering the large rehearsal room, it is surprising that it is so jam-packed with people for such a remote and isolated part of the building. Cast members are standing, but relaxed in places marked by masking tape of multiple colors. A dozen seated people surround them on two sides, some writing on notepads, others typing on laptops. Two black spinet pianos and a drum set take up the far wall. Every person in the room is masked, including cast, until or unless someone has a line or a song lead.

Even with a mask, producer Garth Drabinsky at a table in the center of the room is clearly recognizable with his bushy hair, now gray. We share a quick hello since we had done an interview in this same building twenty-three years earlier for the opening “Ragtime,” which Drabinsky produced, and he also oversaw a $30 million restoration of this theater. He invites me to join him, next to a production assistant taking copious notes by hand on everything that is transpiring.

The stage manager calls order and director Moises Kaufman begins energetically walking the cast through the final scene of Drabinsky’s new show, “Paradise Square,”verbally dissecting every element. The dialogue between the Black and white cast is sometimes volatile but the working atmosphere is collegial and familial. Cast members raise issues and make suggestions. Egos are left at the door. Lines viewed as extraneous are cut. When meaning is unclear, lines are changed. Show composer Jason Howland is accompanying the cast at the piano and thanks an ensemble member for a spontaneous suggestion tried and adapted about paring back the chorus for one verse of a song to heighten the buildup of the next verse.

The premise of the show is a pre-Civil War Irish and African-American neighborhood that existed in New York prior to the 1863 Draft Riots.

Kaufman warns the cast of a “director cry alert.” “I can’t get through the finale without crying.” When Joaquina Kalukango movingly starts into the show’s climactic number a few feet in front of us, Drabinsky turns and whispers, “She’s Juilliard-trained.”

As lunch is called, we head to Drabinsky’s dressing room. The familiar cane he used in the nineties due to childhood polio has since given way to a walker. An assistant is nearby but Drabinsky takes every deliberate step himself. A steaming bowl of soup served in patterned china is waiting for him with a few crackers. “This is my only chance for sustenance.”

“It’s still a work-in-progress, but hopefully you get a sense of it,” says Drabinsky, settling in. “There is another ending that we had that’s just as emotional.” Has a final decision been made about which to use? “No.”

Has Chicago changed, I wondered, since Drabinsky was last here in the late 1990s, laying the groundwork for what became Broadway in Chicago?

“The city is still architecturally glorious, the people are still Midwestern-hospitable. The integrity of the population, I think, is at hand. I love this city. You know, I would move here in a second. If there was any other city I would live in North America [aside from Drabinsky’s native Toronto], it would be Chicago.

“The Irish and African-American history here and the demographic of the city is incredible and perfect for the show. I don’t know of a better city to reflect what the show is about than Chicago.

“Chicago popped up in ‘Show Boat.’ The Palmer House and this and that. It just had a history. The two years I did ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” here with Donny Osmond. ‘Aspects of Love’ at Lyric Opera. All of that and then doing ‘Show Boat’ at the Auditorium Theatre.

“I used to own the Chicago Theatre when it was a movie theater, because I used to own two-thirds of the movie theaters in Chicago. Cineplex Odeon and I bought Plitt Theaters. My history with this city goes back to 1985.”

When asked about what else has changed since Drabinsky worked here regularly, Drabinsky takes a deep breath. I thought he might address how the rather public fall of his once mega-company Livent or his 2009 conviction and subsequent prison time for fraud and forgery had changed him, but he cast his net more widely.

“America has changed. The world has changed. America has gone through incredible turbulence since I cornered the rights to this piece in 2013.

“No one could have been prescient enough to see the immigration formula blow up and see America turning deaf ears on immigrants during the Trump era.

“Then to see the hideousness of racism raise its profile and to watch the aftermath of George Floyd as if it was 1965 again with protests and marches in the streets such as leading up to 1968 in Chicago. I had lived through that experience in my lifetime and thought I would never have to live it again. But there it was.

“And then the pandemic. You know, I’ve lived through bank failures, I’ve lived through wars. But I hadn’t lived through the world shutting itself down. And all that did was bring up for me, the world that I had to live through when I was a young kid when I had polio.

“And to hear the insanity of the rightwing response of ‘No vaccination! No vaccination!’ Are you kidding me? God has allowed a vaccination to materialize in such a short time to heal the world, and you’re turning your backs on that? When I lived in a polio isolation hospital when I was three-and-a-half, where I lived with kids in iron lungs who were being wheeled out every night three, four, five at a time, dead the next morning? And you are even questioning for a millisecond whether or not you are going to be blessed with getting a vaccination? The insanity of that is simply incomprehensible.

“What has changed? The entire population seems to have changed. That’s what has changed. There has been an attempt to rip down the entire fabric of the country. Nothing left standing. When you start dealing with voter rights legislation and are not able to get unanimity on legislation for the basic tenets of life when there is such economic disparity in the country. To watch this country come to the precipice of anarchy, to the precipice of losing its hard-fought democracy. Having lived so much in America over the years and watching it happen from outside the country just tore my heart apart.”

A key change and culprit in assisting all of this, as Drabinsky sees it, has been social media. “There is so much more to life than a phone, than a computer screen. Sitting in a concert hall and listening to the majesty of a symphony orchestra is worth a year of being on Facebook. This manipulation of a population of kids who don’t know how to communicate anymore, who can’t talk to each other. This is what pushes me to want to produce theater to get people to think, to reflect. To be provoked to conversation into change, into understanding where they are in respect to the historical struggle of the evolution of culture, the evolution of a population.”

When workshopping “Paradise Square” in early 2019 in Berkeley, California, Drabinsky says the Shubert family came to see it and wanted to bring it to New York. “We made plans to do that in spring 2020 but then, boom. The pandemic hit. Not knowing when Broadway was going to reopen, I said maybe we should be coming to one other place before New York. I remembered the embrace of the city of my work in the past and thought, what about Chicago? What about my theater? I made the decision to come to Chicago in December of last year and then the Barrymore Theatre opened for us around June. So really Chicago predated the final opportunity to come to New York.”

Given all that has transpired, what was it like for Drabinsky to return to a theater he restored twenty-three years later?

“It was a completely surreal experience. What can I tell you?” Did Drabinsky have to pinch himself? “Yeah. Beyond. I said to my cast the first day that it’s very seldom that a cast gets to work with a producer who also built the theater. In this day and age, that doesn’t happen very often.

“And the diversity of this show, its scope, its drama, its intensity, its emotion: everything that ‘Ragtime’ was, this is as well. This is the most powerful show that I have had my name on. It’s certainly of the same genre as ‘Ragtime.’ I think it will go down in that same legacy of show. I can’t say more than that until you see it. But I think you’ll feel it.”

“Paradise Square” runs November 2-December 5 at the Nederlander Theatre, 24 West Randolph, broadwayinchicago.com.

‘Paradise Square’ gives a history lesson from ‘the margins’ +

by Miriam Di Nunzio
September 30, 2021

If you’re never heard of Five Points, New York, or the draft riots of 1863, you’re in for a potent history lesson courtesy of a new Broadway-bound musical opening in Chicago this fall.

The Five Points of this musical was a real place — one of the poorest and run-down tenements in 19th century Lower Manhattan (the same gritty setting for Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York”). By all historical accounts, it was not a pretty site, but it was, for a brief moment in time, a place where, in spite of the hardship and the racism of Civil War-era America, two diverse cultures lived and thrived together. Until some of the bloodiest riots in U.S. history raged for four days in 1863.

That’s the setup for “Paradise Square,” receiving its pre-Broadway engagement at the James M. Nederlander Theatre Nov. 2-Dec. 5. (“Paradise Square” has been in development for the past decade and was produced in January 2019 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.)

As the war between the states boils over, newly arrived Irish immigrants and free-born Black Americans and others who had escaped slavery in the South are living and working together amid the worst of conditions, but making the best life they could. Two cultures melded. Blacks and Whites married, had children, worked hard and believed in the American dream. Dance halls and bars dotted the neighborhood (the show’s title is one of the local watering holes, and setting for most of the action) and dance battles broke out. Irish step dancing and African Juba obliterated genre lines, ultimately birthing tap dance. And the music of Stephen Foster (a character in the play) set the tone for the milieu.

The show, conceived by Larry Kirwan and based on his 2012 musical “Hard Times: An American Musical,” has morphed into a wholly new iteration from the Berkeley Rep version, with a book by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Kirwan, who also contributed to Jason Howland’s score, along with Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare. Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones created the powerhouse choreography

The musical also marks the big-time return of Tony Award-winning producer Garth Drabinsky, one of the leading Broadway impresarios of the 1990s, who was convicted of fraud and served time in a Canadian prison (all charges in the U.S. were subsequently dismissed). Drabinksy is no stranger to the Chicago theater scene; his now-defunct Livent production company brought “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” with Donny Osmond in the title role to the Chicago Theatre for a record-breaking run. It was Drabinsky’s Livent that brought the battered Oriental Theatre (now the aforementioned Nederlander) back to life in 1998, ushering the rebirth of Chicago’s downtown theater district.

“I said to this cast, of all the shows I’ve done, this is the first time I’ve come into rehearsal with the script and music being so exquisitely sculpted and prepared, and frankly it’s because we’ve had the time in the last 18 months not to grieve and be depressed but to refine and make better and finally bring to fruition the essence of everything we were doing,” Drabinsky said of working on “Paradise Square” amid a pandemic, and his fervent desire to tell the Five Points story.

Moises Kaufman, the director of “Paradise Square,” added, “I’ve lived in Manhattan for 30 years and I never knew that Five Points had that kind of intensity,”

“I was very taken in by the story,” Kaufman continued. “In my work I’m interested in the intersection of the personal and political, whether it’s [Kaufman’s other stage works] ‘The Laramie Project” or ‘I Am My Own Wife’ or “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,’ I’m really interested in this idea of what happens when what society deems to be ‘the other’ becomes the recorder of history. What happens if we look at history through the eyes of these people who were at the margins of a certain culture? What do we see? … I immediately felt like this [show] was something that I wanted to do.”

That Five Points existed in this manner 150 years ago is something Kaufman said should resonate with all who encounter the production. “What’s encouraging and sad is that a lot of what’s happening in our streets is happening on our stage,” Kaufman mused. “... And we started doing [this production] way before Black Lives Matter.”

The people of Paradise Square (it too is a real place) co-existed because they had to in order to survive, he said. The violent Civil War draft riots, though not the core of the show, hammer that home, as do the show’s powerful anthems of anger, hope, despair and promise.

“The riots (led by working-class Irish immigrants) went north, uptown, because they wanted to hurt the rich people who could avoid the draft altogether by paying $300,” Kaufman said, the fee signifying an out-of-reach sum for immigrants (Blacks were not considered citizens and therefore not subject to the draft). “Then they came back downtown to attack African Americans” as well as white abolitionists and business owners.

Kaufman is adamant that the show does not romanticize the subject matter. “This is not ‘Camelot,’ ” he said with a chuckle.

The production also exemplifies the need for increased diversity on theater stages and also behind the scenes (“Hamilton” comparisons have been made).

“Our team is Black, Latinx. It’s exciting,” said composer/lyricist Masi Asare, an assistant professor at Northwestern University, where she teaches a course in musical theater history. “There are people of a lot of backgrounds on the show and I have to say it’s an interesting time to be a Black woman writer of musicals. The projects I signed on to and have been really excited to join are those where there has already been a long history of having women in the room, people of different races in the room; and that is certainly the case with this project.”

Asare said she was tapped to help with major rewrites this past year, lending a key Black voice to the Black voices of the show, in addition to bringing her historical perspective to the Stephen Foster character.

“Audiences can now very clearly see how [Foster] took up material from Black artists that he met and repackaged it as his own in ways that he and the music business at the time profited from those uncredited contributions of Black artists.”

Added Kaufman, “The musical takes a look at the social conflicts that are still the basis today of how we live in America. These people at this time and place believed that some of these social contracts could actually work. … They saw a new kind of world that was possible. It’s an exploration of what it took to create what they created, not just an ode to what they did.”

Dean chats with Tony Award-winning producer Garth H. Drabinsky +

by Dean Richards
September 27, 2021

WGN Entertainment Critic Dean Richards chats with Tony Award-winning producer Garth H. Drabinsky a day after the Tony Awards returned following a one-year hiatus.

WATCH THE VIDEO

Dean Richards’ Sunday Morning | September 26th, 2021 +

by Dean Richards
September 26, 2021

Legendary producer Garth Drabinsky talks about his new production ‘Paradise Square.’ The production, eight years in the making, will be in Chicago on pre-Broadway from November 2 – December 5. (Interview begins around 60:00)

LISTEN

Drabinsky Returning to Chicago +

By Chris Jones
May 18, 2021

Garth Drabinsky is coming back to Chicago. The Canadian showbiz mogul who wrestled the pivotal 1998 restoration of the Oriental Theatre, staged epic Chicago productions of “Show Boat” and “Ragtime” and put Donny Osmond in “Joseph” to the delight of audiences here for years — is reigniting high-profile theater in Chicago this fall with a new Broadway-bound musical, “Paradise Square.”

The piece, which uses both original music and the songs of Stephen Foster, focuses on the Lower Manhattan neighborhood of Five Points, positing that its 1863 blend of Irish immigrants and Black Americans, both escapees from slavery and free-born individuals, was a singular fusion wherein two oppressed groups intermingled, intermarried and shared their music, dance and culture.

The show features a book by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan. Music, including both original songs and Foster adaptations, is by Jason Howland, Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare. The director is Moises Kaufman (“I Am My Own Wife”), choreography is by Bill T. Jones (”Spring Awakening”), and musical staging is by Graciela Daniele, who famously worked with Drabinsky and director Frank Galati on “Ragtime.”

Performances are scheduled to begin Nov. 2 and play through Dec. 5 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre (formerly the Oriental Theatre), 24 W. Randolph St. Individual tickets go on sale June 8.

“I am delighted to back,” Drabinsky said Monday in a telephone interview. “Without the return of the theater, great cities like New York and Chicago are just not the same.”

Drabinsky said that he expects the show to move directly to Broadway, opening early in 2022.

“Paradise Square,” an early version of which was seen in 2018 at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, represents the return of one of North America’s most ebullient producers, a careful studier of audiences and a famously intellectual showman of the old school.

“My life has been dedicated to the entertainment business,” Drabinsky said. “It is something I always have been compelled to do.”

Chicago was a clear beneficiary: Drabinsky’s restoration of the Oriental (with the help of public funds) reignited interest in the Loop theater district, resulting in similar work at the Cadillac Palace Theatre and other downtown venues. Drabinsky’s shows made the case in the 1990s that Chicago could and would support long runs of several months, and sometimes years, buoying the fortunes of downtown restaurants and parking lots.

Coming during the fall recovery, the five weeks of “Paradise Square” represent a bold new bet on the Loop’s live-entertainment fortunes, fully in line with Drabinsky’s past risk-taking efforts. This will be the city’s first pre-Broadway production since the COVID-19 closures, offering a restoration of a crucial Chicago franchise and economic generator.

“When we were derailed by the pandemic, the man never lost his passion or his commitment to the project,” Kaufman said of his producer. “He is trying to do something here both interesting and daring.”

Drabinsky said he was convinced the demographics of Chicago, a city whose culture was formed in no small part by Irish immigrants and Black Americans, would embrace the show and be compelled by the largely unknown story of a neighborhood that promised hope for the future, albeit long deferred.

“The Oriental is incredibly special to me,” he said. “And we could not be coming to a more fitting city.”

‘Paradise Square,’ a Broadway-bound musical, set to open in Chicago in November +

By Darel Jevens
May 18, 2021

Chicago’s job of presenting new musicals on their way to Broadway — halted last year by the pandemic — is set to resume in November with a show about a key moment in the history of Irish Americans and African Americans.

“Paradise Square,” set at a saloon in the Lower Manhattan slum of Five Points in 1863, will run at the James M. Nederlander Theatre Nov. 2-Dec. 5, producers announced Tuesday. It focuses on the shared lives of African Americans — some free born, some fleeing slavery — and freshly arrived Irish immigrants in that New York neighborhood.

The casting and Broadway plans will be announced later.

The musical is directed by two-time Tony nominee Moisés Kaufman (“I Am My Own Wife,” “The Laramie Project”), with choreography by two-time Tony winner Bill T. Jones (“Spring Awakening,” “Fela!”). The writing team includes Larry Kirwan, lead singer of the Celtic rock band Black 47, along with veteran playwrights Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley and Craig Lucas.

The score, by Grammy winner Jason Howland (“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”) and Nathan Tysen (with contributions by Kirwan and Masi Asare), is built around the songs of Five Points resident Stephen Foster as well as original works.

Garth Drabinsky, the high-profile Canadian impresario who restored and reopened the Nederlander Theatre (then the Oriental) in 1998, is producing “Paradise Square.” Drabinsky was a major player in Chicago theater in the ‘90s, bringing in long-running productions of “Show Boat,” “Ragtime” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamboat.”

“Paradise Square” first was staged in January 2019 by Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California.

Broadway-bound tuner 'Paradise Square' set to premiere in November in Chicago +

By Barbara Vitello
May 18, 2021

Fourteen months after the pandemic shuttered live theater, the Chicago to Broadway pipeline reopens in November with Paradise Square, a new musical whose impressive pedigree includes director Moisés Kaufman (I Am My Own Wife, The Laramie Project) and Tony Award-winning choreographer Bill T. Jones (Spring Awakening, Fela!).

Performances run Nov. 2 through Dec. 5 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago. The opening marks Chicago's first pre-Broadway run since the COVID-19 pandemic forced theaters to close.

Set during the Civil War in 1863 New York, Paradise Square tells the story of the people of Five Points, a lower Manhattan slum where freeborn Black Americans and escaped slaves lived and worked with Irish immigrants.

Through their shared cultural heritage, expressed in dance contests at neighborhood dance halls, tap dancing -- a combination of Juba dance and Irish step dancing -- evolved. However, that racial and cultural harmony was shattered by the bloody July 1863 riots sparked by the establishment of a federal draft.

The score is by Jason Howland (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) and Nathan Tysen (Amelie) with additional material by Masi Asare (Monsoon Wedding), Larry Kirwan, the lead singer for Black 47 as well as songs by Stephen Foster, who lived in Five Points at the time.

Kirwan also contributed to the book co-written by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley (The House That Will Not Stand) and Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza).

Tickets are available for groups of 10 or more at (312) 977-1710 or by emailing groupsales@broadwayinchicago.com. Paradise Square will be a part of the new Broadway In Chicago subscription launching in August. Individual tickets for Paradise Square go on sale June 8. See broadwayinchicago.com for more information.

Garth Drabinsky-Produced ‘Paradise Square’ Musical Sets Pre-Broadway Run In Chicago +

By Greg Evans
May 18, 2021

Paradise Square, the original musical from a creative team that includes Moisés Kaufman, Bill T. Jones, Craig Lucas and Black 47 singer Larry Kirwan, will begin a limited, month-long pre-Broadway engagement in Chicago on Nov. 2.

Casting and details about a Broadway engagement will be announced shortly.

The musical, set in the notorious Civil War-era Lower Manhattan Five Points slum, is produced by Garth H. Drabinsky, marking a return of the once ubiquitous Canadian theater executive. Drabinsky, whose previous Broadway productions included Kiss of the Spider Woman, Show Boat, Ragtime and Fosse, is teamed on Paradise Square with longtime colleague Peter LeDonne, who co-produces.

Paradise Square will be the first major pre-Broadway show to open in Chicago after the pandemic shutdown. The musical will play from Nov. 2 – Dec. 5 at Broadway In Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre.

As described by the production, the musical is set in 1863 New York City “amid the dangerous streets and crumbling tenement houses of the Five Points, the notorious 19th-century Lower Manhattan slum. Irish immigrants escaping the devastation of the Great Famine settled alongside free-born Black Americans and those who escaped slavery, arriving by means of the Underground Railroad. The Irish, relegated at that time to the lowest rung of America’s social status, received a sympathetic welcome from their Black neighbors (who enjoyed only slightly better treatment in the burgeoning industrial-era city). The two communities co-existed, intermarried, raised families, and shared their cultures in this unlikeliest of neighborhoods.”

The description continues, “The amalgamation between the communities took its most exuberant form with raucous dance contests on the floors of the neighborhood bars and dance halls. It is here in the Five Points where tap dancing was born, as Irish step dancing joyously competed with Black American Juba. But this racial equilibrium would come to a sharp and brutal end when President Lincoln’s need to institute the first Federal Draft to support the Union Army would incite the deadly NY Draft Riots of July 1863.”

The creative team features direction by Kaufman (I Am My Own Wife, The Laramie Project), choreography by Jones (Spring Awakening, Fela!), book by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Lucas and Kirwan. Graciela Daniele (Ragtime, Once on This Island) will provide the musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

The score is by the team of Jason Howland (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) and Nathan Tysen (Tuck Everlasting), with additional material provided by Masi Asare and Kirwan. The musical features original songs as well as a reimagining of the songs of Stephen Foster, who was writing and living in the Five Points at the time.

The world premiere of Paradise Square was produced in January 2019 by Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The musical is based on Hard Times, originally conceived by Mr. Kirwan, which was originally presented Off Broadway in 2012.

WLS-TV, ABC 7, CHICAGO +

May 18, 2021

Transcript: “So many of Chicago's famous theatres have been closed because of the pandemic but now the theater scene is coming back. The Nederlander Theatre will put on Paradise Square on November 2. it will be the first major pre-Broadway show to raise the curtain in Chicago since the theater shut down. The full Broadway in Chicago lineup will be announced June 1st. Performances start in October.” 

WLS-TV, ABC 7, CHICAGO, EYEWITNESS NEWS AT 4 PM +

May 18, 2021

Transcript: “The live theater scene is bouncing back after the pandemic closed curtains. The musical "Paradise Square" is making its debut later this year. Karen Jordan shows why this might be a sign that The Loop is coming back to life. Jordan: The pandemic darkened the theater district but with the city relaxing rules on indoor gatherings, lights will shine again. Broadway in Chicago is making a comeback later this year and one of the first productions is "Paradise Square," a Civil War-era musical set in New York about racial harmony undone by the war. It will have a five-week run before it moves to Broadway. Drabinsky: “Outside of Broadway, there is no more important city in America for live theater than Chicago.” Theaters will be at full capacity and patrons will be required to wear masks.”

WMAQ-TV, NBC 5, CHICAGO +

May 18, 2021

Transcript: “Some exciting news for theatre lovers! Live performances are coming back to the stage in Chicago this fall with a special pre-Broadway premiere. [MUSICAL EXCERPT PLAYS]. I want to keep on hearing this. Isn’t it incredible? The new musical Paradise Square will debut with a limited engagement from November 2 to December 5 at Broadway in Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre. The show is set in in a New York City slum in 1863 during the Civil War. It tells the story of Irish immigrants who settled alongside Black Americans as they shared cultures and raised their families together. I want to see this!”

WGN MORNING NEWS, CHICAGO +

May 18, 2021

Transcript: “Good morning. We've got some big theater news breaking this morning Broadway in Chicago has just announced the first major pre-Broadway show to open since the pandemic shut everything down last year. It’s going to be the new musical Paradise Square. These are some still pictures from their 2019 try out at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. I’m told that this is the story of New York's Five Points neighborhood in 1863, where Irish and African American cultures meet. The show will run November 2 through December 5 at the Nederlander Theatre, formerly the Oriental Theater downtown on Randolph Street.”

WGN-TV, CHICAGO +

May 18, 2021

Transcript: “Paradise Square will have a one-month tryout at the Nederlander Theatre on Randolph Street starting in November. It'll tell the story of Irish immigrants in New York City back in the 1860's. These are pictures from the production's tryout at the Berkeley Repertory Theater back in 2019. It is going to run from November 2 through December 5. Individual tickets will go on sale June 8th CDC state and city covid protocols. will be observed.”

WGN-AM RADIO, CHICAGO +

May 18, 2021

Transcript: Dean Richards: It's a big deal that a pre-Broadway show is coming to the downtown theater district. That right there, that’s a huge deal because we've only heard vaguely what's going to be happening with Broadway in Chicago, so the fact that they're giving us something specific here, that's news. Host: Seriously, I mean for all the people that have been out of work for so long in these big theaters, I know November is a long way away but light at the end of the tunnel is still light. Richards: Exactly. Host: So I'm glad we got some good news there. Richards: Wait a minute. Hold on just a moment. I'm being told I can now give this information. It's going to be the pre-Broadway premiere of a musical that's called Paradise Square. It’s a musical about the merging of Irish and African-American cultures in New York. So that's what this musical about it's going to be at the Nederlander Theatre, formerly known as the Oriental Theatre on Randolph Street in Chicago. But that's going to be the big show.”

Broadway-Aimed Paradise Square Will Play Chicago +

By Dan Meyer
May 18, 2021

The pre-Broadway tryout for Paradise Square will play a limited engagement at James M. Nederlander Theatre in Chicago November 2-December 5. Casting and details about a Main Stem production, including dates and a theatre, will be announced later.

Set in Manhattan’s Five Points neighborhood during the Civil War, the musical follows the denizens of a local saloon, including the Black woman who owns it, a conflicted newly arrived Irish immigrant, a runaway slave, and a once-great songwriter.

Conceived by Larry Kirwan, Paradise Square features a score by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen, with additional material by Masi Asare and Kirwan. The musical features original songs as well as a reimagining of the songs of Stephen Foster. Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas, and Kirwan wrote the book.

The world premiere of Paradise Square played Berkeley Repertory Theatre in December 2018. Returning to the creative team in Chicago are director Moisés Kaufman and choreographer Bill T. Jones. Graciela Daniele joins to provide musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

Rounding out the behind-the-scenes team are scenic designer Allen Moyer, costume designer Toni-Leslie James, lighting designer Donald Holder, sound designer Jon Weston, hair and wig designer Matthew B. Armentrout, associate choreographers Talli Jackson and Gelan Lambert, and projection designer Wendall K. Harrington with special effects by Gregory Meeh. Dramaturgy is by Thulani Davis and Sydné Mahone, with Irish and Hammerstep choreography by Garrett Coleman and Jason Oremus, and casting by Stewart/Whitley.

Producers are Garth H. Drabinsky in association with Peter LeDonne and Teatro Proscenium Limited Partnership.

Broadway-Aimed Musical Paradise Square to Play Chicago in November +

By Lindsey Sullivan
May 18, 2021

A new musical eyeing Broadway is headed to Chicago. Following a world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2018-2019, Paradise Square will play Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre from November 2 through December 5. Director Moisés Kaufman and choreographer Bill T. Jones will return to the show, which was conceived by Larry Kirwan.

Paradise Square is set in 1863 in a 20-block area of Manhattan known as the Five Points, where Black and Irish Americans live side by side, work together, marry and for a brief period, realize racial harmony. However, the intensifying Civil War soon results in the first-ever federal draft, leading to riots. Will the hard-won bonds of friendship, community and family in the Five Points prevail or be severed forever?

Paradise Square features a book co-written by Pulitzer finalist Craig Lucas, Marcus Gardley, Christina Anderson and Kirwan. Music is composed by Jason Howland and Kirwan, with lyrics by Nathan Tysen and additional material by Masi Asare. Graciela Daniele will provide the musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

The creative team also includes scenic designer Allen Moyer, costume designer Toni-Leslie James, lighting designer Donald Holder, sound designer Jon Weston, hair and wig designer Matthew B. Armentrout, associate choreographers Talli Jackson and Gelan Lambert and projection designer Wendall K. Harrington with special effects by Gregory Meeh. Irish and Hammerstep choreography is by Garrett Coleman and Jason Oremus.

Casting for the Chicago engagement will be announced later.

Producer Garth Drabinsky Returns With Broadway-Bound Musical Paradise Square +

By Zachary Stewart
May 18, 2021

Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre will host the pre-Broadway run of the new musical Paradise Square November 2-December 5.

The show is produced by Garth H. Drabinsky, the Tony-winning producer behind Kiss of the Spider Woman.

Paradise Square is set in the Five Points neighborhood of New York City circa 1863 and is about a community of poor Irish immigrants and free Blacks who survive the war years and Draft Riots with raucous dance contests in neighborhood bars and dance halls. "It is here in the Five Points where tap dancing was born, as Irish step dancing joyously competed with Black American Juba," according to a press statement.

The book is a collaboration by Christina Anderson (Good Goods), Marcus Gardley (The House That Will Not Stand), Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza), and Larry Kirwan (lead singer of Black 47). It centers on a mixed-race family in 19th-century New York and the saloon run by that family's indomitable matriarch.

The score of Paradise Square is by composer Jason Howland (who did the arrangements for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) and lyricist Nathan Tysen (Tuck Everlasting). Additional material is provided by Masi Asare (Monsoon Wedding) and Larry Kirwan. The musical features original songs as well as a reimagining of the songs of Stephen Foster ("Camptown Races"), who was writing and living in the Five Points at the time.

Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project) directs, with choreography by two-time Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones (Spring Awakening, Fela!). Ten-time Tony Award nominee Graciela Daniele (Ragtime, Once on This Island) will provide musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

Paradise Square made its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2019. Casting and dates for the Broadway run will be announced at a later date.

PARADISE SQUARE, Produced by Garth H. Drabinsky, Will Have Pre-Broadway Engagement in Chicago This November +

By BWW News Desk
May 18, 2021

The Pre-Broadway Premiere of Paradise Square is coming to Chicago! This new musical, which examines a remarkable yet virtually unknown moment in American history, will play a strictly limited engagement from November 2 - December 5, 2021, at Broadway In Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre. Paradise Square will be the first major Pre-Broadway show to raise its curtain in Chicago after the prolonged closure of live theatre due to the global pandemic. Casting and Broadway theatre and dates will be announced shortly.

The musical arrives with Tony winner Garth H. Drabinsky attached as producer.

"I am delighted to back," Drabinsky told the Chicago Tribune. "Without the return of the theater, great cities like New York and Chicago are just not the same." He also revealed that he hopes to bring the show to Broadway in early 2022.

New York City. 1863. The Civil War raged on. An extraordinary thing occurred amid the dangerous streets and crumbling tenement houses of the Five Points, the notorious 19th-century Lower Manhattan slum. Irish immigrants escaping the devastation of the Great Famine settled alongside free-born Black Americans and those who escaped slavery, arriving by means of the Underground Railroad. The Irish, relegated at that time to the lowest rung of America's social status, received a sympathetic welcome from their Black neighbors (who enjoyed only slightly better treatment in the burgeoning industrial-era city). The two communities co-existed, intermarried, raised families, and shared their cultures in this unlikeliest of neighborhoods.

The amalgamation between the communities took its most exuberant form with raucous dance contests on the floors of the neighborhood bars and dance halls. It is here in the Five Points where tap dancing was born, as Irish step dancing joyously competed with Black American Juba.

But this racial equilibrium would come to a sharp and brutal end when President Lincoln's need to institute the first Federal Draft to support the Union Army would incite the deadly NY Draft Riots of July 1863.

Within this galvanizing story of racial harmony undone by a country at war with itself, we meet the denizens of a local saloon called Paradise Square: the indomitable Black woman who owns it; her Irish-Catholic sister-in-law and her Black minister husband; a conflicted newly arrived Irish immigrant; a fearless freedom seeker; an anti-abolitionist political boss, and a penniless songwriter trying to capture it all. They have conflicting notions of what it means to be an American while living through one of the most tumultuous eras in our country's history.

The creative team for Paradise Square features direction by two-time Tony Award nominee Moisés Kaufman (I Am My Own Wife, The Laramie Project), choreography by two-time Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones (Spring Awakening, Fela!), and a book by Christina Anderson (Good Goods, Inked Baby), Marcus Gardley (The House That Will Not Stand), Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza) and Larry Kirwan (lead singer of Black 47). Ten-time Tony Award nominee Graciela Daniele (Ragtime, Once on This Island) will provide musical staging, in collaboration with Kaufman and Jones.

The score of Paradise Square is by the team of Grammy and Emmy Award winner Jason Howland (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Little Women - The Musical) and Nathan Tysen (Amélie, Tuck Everlasting), with additional material provided by Masi Asare (Monsoon Wedding, The Family Resemblance) and Mr. Kirwan. The musical features original songs as well as a reimagining of the songs of Stephen Foster, who was writing and living in the Five Points at the time.

The multi-award-winning creative team features scenic design by Allen Moyer, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Donald Holder, sound design by Jon Weston, projection design by Wendall K. Harrington, special effects by Gregory Meeh, and hair and wig design by Matthew B. Armentrout. Dramaturgy is by Thulani Davis and Sydné Mahone. Associate choreographers are Talli Jackson and Gelan Lambert. Irish and Hammerstep choreography is by Garrett Coleman and Jason Oremus. Casting is by Stewart/Whitley, CSA.

Tickets are available now for groups of 10 or more by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710 or emailing GroupSales@BroadwayInChicago.com. Paradise Square will be a part of the new BIC subscription which launches in August. Individual tickets for Paradise Square will go on sale on June 8. For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Graciela Daniele to Receive Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre +

By Andrew Gans
July 29, 2021

Tony-nominated director and choreographer Graciela Daniele will receive a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre at the 74th annual ceremony.

A 10-time Tony nominee, Danielle's Broadway credits as director/choreographer include Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, Annie Get Your Gun, Marie Christine, Once on This Island, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and Dangerous Game. She has musical staged/choreographed The Visit, Pal Joey, The Pirate Queen, Ragtime, The Goodbye Girl, Zorba, The Rink, The Most Happy Fella, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and the forthcoming new musical Paradise Square.

She also choreographed the New York Shakespeare Festival production of The Pirates of Penzance on Broadway, Los Angeles, and in London, and directed and choreographed A New Brain, Hello Again, Little Fish, Bernarda Alba, and William Finn’s Elegies: A Song Cycle. The Argentina-born artist began her Broadway career as a performer in What Makes Sammy Run?, Here's Where I Belong, Promises, Promises, Coco, Follies, and Chicago.

“We are thrilled to recognize Graciela with the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre,” said Heather Hitchens, president of the American Theatre Wing, and Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League. “Her impact on the Broadway community and on our culture as a whole has been immeasurable.”

The Tony Awards, presented by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, will host a multi-platform celebration September 26, starting with the presentation of the American Theatre Wing’s 74th Annual Tony Awards at 7 PM ET on Paramount+, followed by The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back! on CBS.

Graciela Daniele to Receive Lifetime Achievement Tony Award +

By David Gordon
July 29, 2021

Director and choreographer Graciela Daniele will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 Tony Awards in September.

Daniele is a 10-time Tony nominee, whose work includes the original productions of Ragtime, The Goodbye Girl, Once on This Island, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and The Rink, as well as acclaimed revivals of Annie Get Your Gun and The Pirates of Penzance, among other shows. As a performer, she danced in the original productions of Promises, Promises, Coco, Follies, and Chicago. Her work will next be seen in the musical Paradise Square, opening on Broadway in 2022.

The 2020 Tony Awards will be presented in a hybrid event on September 26 that will take place on Paramount Plus and the CBS Television Network. The ceremony was originally scheduled for June 2020 before the global health pandemic forced delays.

Graciela Daniele to Receive 2020 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre +

By Zack Reiser
July 29, 2021

The Tony Awards Administration Committee announced today that Tony Award nominated director and choreographer Graciela Daniele will be the 2020 recipient of the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.

Graciela Daniele has directed on Broadway, at Lincoln Center and the Public Theater, and at regional theaters and has earned ten Tony Award nominations and six Drama Desk nominations. Her Broadway Director/Choreographic credits include Chita Rivera, The Dancer’s Life, Annie Get Your Gun, Marie Christine, Once on This Island, Chronicle of a Death Foretold and Dangerous Game. She has Musical Staged/Choreographed such shows as Ragtime (Astaire, Ovation [L.A.], NAACP, and Callaway Award), The Goodbye Girl, Zorba with Anthony Quinn, The Rink starring Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. She choreographed the New York Shakespeare Festival production of The Pirates of Penzance on Broadway, Los Angeles and London, the motion picture of Pirates, and three Woody Allen films including Mighty Aphrodite, for which she won the 1996 Fosse Award, and Everyone Say I Love You, for which she won the 1997 Fosse Award. Ms. Daniele directed and choreographed A New Brain, which enjoyed an extended run in the summer of 1998 at Lincoln Center Theatre. She is recipient of the 1998 “Mr. Abbot” Award for Outstanding Achievement by a Director/Choreographer. Ms. Daniele directed and choreographed Michael John LaChuisa’s Hello Again (Lincoln Center) and Little Fish (Second Stage) and Bernarda Alba (Lincoln Center Theatre) along with the Lincoln Center Theatre production of William Finn’s Elegies, A Song Cycle. Most recently, she has choreographed The Visit on Broadway and will provide musical staging for the Broadway-bound Paradise Square.

“We are thrilled to recognize Graciela with the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre,” said Heather Hitchens, President of the American Theatre Wing and Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League. “Her impact on the Broadway community and on our culture as a whole has been immeasurable.”

The Tony Awards, presented by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, will host a multi-platform celebration on Sunday, September 26th, starting with the presentation of the American Theatre Wing’s 74th Annual Tony Awards LIVE at 7:00pm ET on Paramount+, followed by “The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back!” on CBS.

Broadway Director & Choreographer Graciela Daniele To Receive Tony Award Lifetime Achievement Honor +

By Greg Evans
July 29, 2021

Graciela Daniele, the Broadway director and choreographer whose many credits include Annie Get Your Gun, Once on This Island, Ragtime and The Goodbye Girl, will be the 2020 recipient of the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.

Daniele also is providing the musical staging for the planned Broadway production of Paradise Square.

The Tony Awards Administration Committee announced the award today.

In a statement, Heather Hitchens, President of the American Theatre Wing and Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, noted that Daniele’s “impact on the Broadway community and on our culture as a whole has been immeasurable.”

The 2020 Tony Awards, delayed for a year by the Covid pandemic, is set for Sunday, September 26.

The Real Story of the ‘Draft Riots’ +

By Elizabeth Mitchell
February 18, 2021

A mob murdered 23-year-old Abraham Franklin at 27th Street and Seventh Avenue in New York City. He had hurried to visit his mother to pray by her side for her protection when the rioters began raging from Downtown to Uptown. Just as he finished his prayers, they crashed through the door, beat him and hanged him as his mother looked on. Then they mutilated his body in front of her.

During the riots in July 1863, the mob also came upon Peter Heuston, a 63-year-old widowed war veteran and a member of the Mohawk tribe, whom they took to be Black. They brutally attacked him on Roosevelt and Oak Streets near the East River. He died of his injuries, leaving his 8-year-old daughter an orphan.

Another victim, William Jones, was so disfigured, whether from the mob’s mutilation or the decay his body endured waiting for observers to gain courage to investigate his identity, that he could be identified only by the loaf of bread under his arm. He had gone out to fetch the staple for his wife and never returned. One woman testified that the mob broke through the doors of her son’s house on East 28th Street in Manhattan, where she was visiting, using pickaxes to break through. The thugs threw a baby out the window to its death. They chopped through the water pipes so the people hiding in the basement of the building would be drowned. They struck her son over the head with a crowbar, and he died in the hospital two days later. Some 400 white people attacked the Black orphanage on Fifth Avenue near 43rd Street. They cut the trees with axes, uprooted the shrubs in what had been a carefully tended garden, carted away the fence and burned the building to the ground.

Many people today, if they have even heard of the Draft Riots, probably know it as a violent citizens’ revolt against President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 conscription of soldiers. In Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” inspired by the nonfiction book by Herbert Asbury, what happened over those days comes across as a somewhat entertaining if gory battle between rival white gangs.

The truth is that over the course of some four days, mobs of white New Yorkers roamed the streets of the city from City Hall to Gramercy Park to past 40th Street, setting fire to buildings and killing people, targeting Black people for the most horrific violence. Historians are still assessing the overall death toll, with estimates ranging from more than 100 to more than a thousand. One of the most prestigious Black newspapers of the time estimated the deaths of people of color to be as high as 175. Other Black people were driven from their homes and all of their property destroyed. In the aftermath, some 5,000 Black New Yorkers were discoveredhiding on Blackwell’s Island, in police stations, in the swamps of New Jersey and in barns on Long Island, desperately seeking safety from the murderous white crowds.

The gruesome events should be remembered. They are as much a part of the city’s history as Sept. 11, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire or immigration through Ellis Island. And there is a related story to tell. One reason we know about the brutality of those events is a booklet, “Report of the Merchants’ Committee for the Relief of Colored People Suffering From the Riots in the City of New York,” published in 1863, from which I’ve drawn many of the descriptions in this article. Importantly, the clerks of the merchants’ committee recorded the testimony of many of the people who had lost loved ones to the murderous gangs, creating a clear record of many of the atrocities committed.

Immediately after the riots, the white merchants of New York combined forces to raise money to care for the injured, repair the damaged property and support the legal and employment needs of the terrorized Black people. Of course, nothing could make up for the lives lost and the pain and suffering inflicted on those who were attacked. But the shopkeepers quickly raised over $40,000, equivalent to more than $825,000 today. Their fund-raising effort was notable because it focused on preserving and honoring the dignity of the people the merchant committee’s report described as the “sufferers.”

“We have not come together to devise means for their relief because they are colored people,” wrote Jonathan Sturges, the treasurer of the group, “but because they are, as a class, persecuted and in distress at the present moment.”

The merchants went about their work methodically. They vowed to secure help from the county. Lawyers volunteered their expertise. When requested, ministers visited the homes of survivors. They urged businesses that were afraid to rehire their Black employees for fear of the mob’s vengeance to be courageous, and promised to guard the businesses that did rehire.

J.D. McKenzie, the chairman, noted that the murderers and pillagers “sought to destroy a race.” But the shopkeepers made a point of not wasting their time focusing on who perpetrated each of the evil deeds. The report made clear that the murderers were clearly “bad men.” The group moved on to what they could do to rectify the inhumanity.

On Saturday, July 25, 1863, the third day that funds were disbursed, applicants packed Fourth Street near Broadway. The donors prided themselves on limiting stress for the recipients. “There are no harsh or unkind words uttered by the clerks — no impertinent quizzing in regard to irrelevant matters — no partisan or sectarian view advanced. The business is transacted in a straightforward, practical manner, without chilling the charity into an offense by creating the impression that the recipient is humiliated by accepting the gift,” The New York Daily Tribune reported. The donors encouraged people to return if they needed more help.

In the first month, the group assisted 6,392 people. Since their children were beneficiaries as well, the total number helped added up to 12,782 — from laborers to music teachers, physicians to cooks, ministers, artists, and farmers.

Black ministers and laymen wrote a note to the merchants about what it all meant: “You did not hesitate to come forward to our relief amid the threatened destruction of your own lives and property. You obeyed the noblest dictates of the human heart, and by your generous moral courage you rolled back the tide of violence that had well nigh swept us away.” This episode from the 19th century is haunting even now, first, because of its brutality. The violence occurred on streets where people now dine and shop, oblivious to what happened. Men were lynched while simply walking home from their jobs. But the manner in which the shopkeepers of New York responded is also important, and it may be instructive to how all people confront and respond to racism today.

It’s horrific what happened on Washington and Leroy Streets, or 34th Street at the East River, East 28th Street, Fulton Ferry, 30th Street and Second Avenue, and Carmine Street in 1863. But horrific events fueled by racism are not just in our past. Think of what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis and David McAtee in Louisville and Ahmaud Arbery in South Georgia, and what happens in the cells of people still waiting to be freed under the Supreme Court’s ruling against juvenile life sentences.

The story of the merchants’ response to the so-called Draft Riots is a reminder that we can all do more if we don’t want the lives of more Black people to be marred by cruelty. That begins with having a cleareyed view of our own history. Understanding the past in a way that’s neither sugarcoated nor whitewashed will keep us moving forward.

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