Shuffle Along was a 1921 Broadway play by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. The show debuted at Daly’s 63rd Street theater in New York City. Shuffle Along was one of the longest running plays on Broadway, with 504 performances. The show served as a breakout role for St. Louis native Josephine Baker, who danced in the chorus as the zany caboose at the end of the line. Baker joined the traveling cast at age 15 and was allowed to join the Broadway version a year later, when she was 16. Shuffle Along also included talents Paul Robeson and Adelaide Hall.
Shuffle Along featured the first sophisticated black love story on stage. This time, the black audience sat in the orchestra seats, instead of the usual balconies. The production was so succesful, 63rd street had to be converted into a one-way street to fix the traffic jams during showtimes.
Because of the mixed-race theater audience, the chorus girls were typically of light complexion and makeup was applied to either lighten or darken their skin to make the audience more comfortable. Even during the play, one of the characters refers to a lighter-skinned woman as being more desirable.
The plot of Shuffle Along surrounded a run for mayor by two men, with the loser taking on the role as police chief. As the comedy musical unfolds, a do-gooder named Harry Walton steps and and removes both men from the scene, claiming the love interest in the process.
The show’s hit song, “I’m Just Wild About Harry”, was an instant success for decades forward. Though the show featured blackface performances, the audience widely accepted the cultural aspect of the show, feeding into the humor and purpose behind the plot and performances. Some even believe it was a significant launch for the Harlem Renaissance.
After the success of Shuffle Along, nine additional Broadway plays with African American casts were born, including “Blackbirds” starring Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
The theater featuring Shuffle Along in 1921, Dalys 63rd Street Theater, was demolished in 1957. However, additional theaters featuring the work of black playwrights like the August Wilson Theater, have become a must-see on New York’s historic Broadway tour.