The creator of an upcoming Black History Month concert at Queensborough Community College's performing arts center said the performance would act as a preview for a much larger tour honoring the most renowned black artists of the 20th century.
Chapman Roberts, who has spent more than 40 years performing and writing arrangements for Broadway, said his “Black Stars of the Great White Way” will provide New Yorkers with an opportunity to see as many as 25 stars of the stage in one performance.
“These guys are the best in the world at what they do,” he said of the show’s all-star cast. “They have no peers and are the only ones in the world who can do what they do. This group of versatile men are movie and TV actors, stage actors, nightclub performers, singers, dancers, directors, choreographers, conductors and pianists.”
The show, which will perform at Queensborough’s performing arts center on Feb. 17, came into being following a photo shoot in 2011.
At that time, Roberts assembled a group of 450 African American performers of Broadway’s present and past in Times Square for a photo session.
Then, word of the photo shoot made its way to California, prompting Roberts to set up a similar session with West Coast performers.
Norm Lewis, of Broadway’s “Porgy and Bess,” approached Roberts with an idea to do a concert at Carnegie Hall that would utilize the performers.
“I thought it was a wonderful idea,” Roberts said. “Then, the opportunity came for me to bring the show to Queensborough. I said, ‘Why don’t we do a microcosm of our show at that theater.”
Although the Carnegie show is currently without a date, Roberts said it could take place in November. That performance would include as many as 200 to 300 musicians, dancers and singers.
Queensborough’s show will have a cast of 25 people, including five Tony Award nominees.
“Each performer will do two or three songs and reprise the numbers that made them famous,” Roberts said.
The show’s format will be a concert and Roberts refers to it as a “jukebox musical” in the style of “Mamma Mia!” or “Jersey Boys.”
“It’s storytelling through song,” he said. “We do some setups with narration.”
Tony-nominated performers Keith David, Ted Levy, Andre De Shields, Larry Marshall and Norm Lewis will sing tunes from “Eubie,” “Smokey Joe’s Café,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.”
Lewis will also reprise his role as Javert from “Les Miserables.”
The stars’ collective careers have been inspired by Louis Jordan, Eubie Blake, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr.
Additional appearances in the show include trumpeter Longineu Parsons, tap dancer Omar Edwards, pianist Frank Owens, bassist Clyde Bullard, guitarist Keith Robinson, South African drummer Sipho Kunene, The York College Big Band, the Robert Mann Dance Centre, 14-year-old piano prodigy Julius Rodriguez and tap dancer Omar Edwards, of “Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk.”
“This group of men we’re honoring were unique in that they were foremost in their fields not only as musicians, but also on the nightclub circuit or concert stage,” Roberts said. “And it’s not just that we’ve been inspired by these performers or that we’re paying tribute. We’ve worked and collaborated with them.”
Roberts said he intends for the show to become a tour that draws from a vast roster of performers.
“It’s something the entire family can share,” he said. “It’s a history of American music.
The show take place at 3 p.m. on Feb. 17 at Queensborough’s performing arts center, located at 222-05 56th Ave. in Bayside.
For more information, contact the performing arts center’s box office at 718-631-6311. Tickets are available online.