Tan Manhattan | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Tan Manhattan

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Black songwriter Andy Razaf isn't as well-known as Oscar Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, and other white lyricists of his era. But such Razaf creations as "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Honeysuckle Rose," "Black and Blue," and "My Handy Man Ain't Handy No More" earned him the admiration of his Caucasian colleagues, who regarded him as "an expert translator of uptown black experience," according to Barry Singer in his 1992 Razaf biography, Black and Blue. The Chicago Humanities Festival salutes Razaf with Tan Manhattan, a 1941 "colored musical" he wrote with composer Eubie Blake. Though the pair's earlier collaboration, Blackbirds of 1930, had been a Broadway flop, they hoped to revive their flagging careers with this portrait of Harlem life, which celebrated African-American culture while advocating social equality. But the show never made it to the Great White Way after its run at Harlem's Apollo theater. Long lost, it's been reconstructed by researchers with access to the authors' private papers as well as the Maryland Historical Society archives, and this is the premiere of the restoration. The score, described by Singer as "a neglected minor masterwork," ranges from torch tunes and raunchy blues to "We Are Americans Too," a patriotic anthem that became a war-bonds standard in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Broadway star Andre De Shields (The Wiz, Ain't Misbehavin'), a former Chicagoan who appeared in the old Organic Theater sci-fi hit Warp!, directs and performs in the show. The ensemble also includes onetime disco diva Freda Payne, the Trinity United Church of Christ choir, and dancer Mercedes Ellington (Duke's granddaughter), who reportedly joins De Shields in a classic cakewalk. 11/5-11/6: Fri 8 PM, Sat 2:30 PM. Symphony Center, Armour Stage, 220 S. Michigan, 312-494-9509. Fri: $25 for show only (upper balcony); $500 for 5:30 PM benefit dinner, show, and postshow party (call 312-661-1028, ext. 24). Sat: $15.

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