The arts community has been hit hard this year, both creatively and economically, by the continuing pandemic and the ensuing tsunami of hardships: sick performers, theater closures, postponed tours, canceled seasons. As Black History Month begins, there’s no better way to show your support for Black artists than by booking tickets to a show. As we slowly return to in-person performances, consider these 10 plays, musicals, operas and dance concerts, by both up-and-comers and established legends such as Alvin Ailey and Alice Childress. For a window into Black history and the contemporary Black experience, these shows are just the ticket.
Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer by Cheryl L. West
Where to see it: Seattle Rep (Jan. 14–Feb. 13)
The premise: E. Faye Butler stars as the civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer in this inspiring one-woman show with music, which will have you clapping and singing along to its spirituals and protest songs. The daughter of a Mississippi sharecropper, Hamer cofounded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, helped organize Freedom Summer and even ran for Congress.
Why you should see it: Seattle Rep is offering a number of Pay What You Choose tickets so everyone can see the show. Feeling inspired by the initiative? You can donate to help the cause.
Book a ticket: Seattle Rep
Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage and Ricky Ian Gordon
Where to see it: Lincoln Center Theater, New York (Jan. 13–March 6)
The premise: The first woman to win two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, Lynn Nottage, 57, has an astonishing three shows playing in New York this season. The latest is a sumptuous new opera — the first ever produced by Lincoln Center Theater — inspired by her 2003 play about an African American seamstress in 1905 New York who sews corsets and ladies’ undergarments.
Why you should see it: Director Bartlett Sher, 62, has had plenty of success with Lincoln Center Theater, winning a Tony for South Pacific and earning nominations for The Light in the Piazza, The King and I, My Fair Lady and more.
Book a ticket: Lincoln Center Theater
Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress
Where to see it: The Old Globe, San Diego (Feb. 5–March 13)
The premise: In 1957, Alice Childress was set to premiere this scathing backstage comedy on Broadway, which would have made her the first Black female playwright to have a show on the Great White Way; when producers demanded too many edits, she pulled the production. The play, which follows a Black actress rehearsing for an anti-lynching play-within-a-play, finally made it to Broadway this season, where it opened to rapturous reviews, and it’s getting a new production at San Diego’s premiere theater.
Why you should see it: The Broadway production is probably going to make a big splash come this year’s Tonys; if you missed out on the New York run, you have another chance to see it.
Book a ticket: The Old Globe
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Black No More by John Ridley and Tariq Trotter
Where to see it: The New Group, New York (Jan. 18–Feb. 27)
The premise: Inspired by George S. Schuyler’s Afrofuturist novel, this Harlem Renaissance-set musical comes courtesy of a dream team of Black creatives, including Tony-winning choreographer Bill T. Jones (69) and book writer John Ridley (56), who won an Oscar for his 12 Years a Slave script. Tariq Trotter — aka Black Thought from The Roots — wrote the lyrics, cowrote the music and costars as Dr. Junius Crookman, a mysterious man who invents a machine to turn Black people white, which he claims will “solve the American race problem."
Why you should see it: The cast is led by Brandon Victor Dixon, an acclaimed Broadway actor who received an Emmy nomination for his role as Judas Iscariot in NBC’s live concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Book a ticket: The New Group
The Bluest Eye by Lydia R. Diamond
Where to see it: The Huntington Theatre, Boston (Jan. 28–Feb. 27)
The premise: Playwright Lydia R. Diamond, 52, adapted Toni Morrison’s celebrated debut novel for the stage in 2007. The moving drama tells the story of Pecola (Hadar Busia-Singleton), a young Black girl who’s obsessed with white beauty standards and believes that she can only be loved if she has blue eyes.
Why you should see it: Inspired by Black storytelling rituals, director Awoye Timpo stages the show in the round, with audience members surrounding the actors. “Coming together in a circle to tell a story is essential to our humanity,” she says. “That’s what we’re inviting the community into with The Bluest Eye."
Book a ticket: The Huntington Theatre
Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris
Where to see it: Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles (Feb. 9–March 13)
The premise: Theater’s enfant terrible, Jeremy O. Harris, took the New York culture world by storm with this provocative, hilarious and often shocking play about sex and race, which follows three interracial couples on the MacGregor Plantation. The less you know about the controversial plot of this “antebellum fever-dream,” the better. It was such a zeitgeist-capturing hit that it was remounted on Broadway this past winter, before making its West Coast debut this month in Los Angeles.
Why you should see it: Its 2019 Broadway run received a dozen Tony nominations, the most ever for a play — though it went 0 for 12.
Book a ticket: Center Theatre Group
Dreaming Zenzile by Somi Kakoma
Where to see it: McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton, New Jersey (Jan. 20–Feb. 13)
The premise: South African musical legend and anti-apartheid activist Miriam Makeba (aka Mama Africa) was the first African musician to win a Grammy, for her 1965 collaboration with Harry Belafonte, now 94. Now, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Somi Kakoma — the American-born daughter of Rwandan and Ugandan immigrants — turned Makeba’s final concert into an exhilarating new musical; as part of its ongoing “rolling world premiere,” the show will play the McCarter Theatre Center, on the Princeton University campus, this month.
Why you should see it: Somi, who goes by her first name when singing and her full name when writing, has been called “a new high priestess of soul” by the Huffington Post.
Book a ticket: McCarter Theatre Center
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Where to see it: Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. (Feb. 1-6)
The premise: The world-famous modern dance company has been performing at the Kennedy Center since it opened back in 1971. This month, they’ll present a mixed repertory program of new and classic works, including their signature masterpiece, Revelations, which premiered in 1960 when Ailey was 29 and is set to a soundtrack of spirituals and gospel and blues songs.
Why you should see it: Two of the performances — the evening of Feb. 4 and the matinee on Feb. 6 — will feature works by Robert Battle, who became the company’s third artistic director in 2011.
Book a ticket: Kennedy Center
Our Town/Nuestro Pueblo by Thornton Wilder
Where to see it: Dallas Theater Center (Jan. 27–Feb. 20)
The premise: A 2017 Tony winner for best regional theater, the Dallas Theater Center is presenting a multilingual, multicultural version of Thornton Wilder’s beloved Our Town, about families living (and dying) in the small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. This updated version, which is spoken in English, Spanish and Creole, features translated passages by Cuban American playwright Nilo Cruz, 61, and Haitian American playwright Jeff Augustin.
Why you should see it: If you’re a theater lover, you’ve probably seen Our Town once or twice, so it’s refreshing to see it through a whole new lens.
Book a ticket: Dallas Theater Center
Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson
Where to see it: Goodman Theatre, Chicago (Jan. 22–Feb. 27)
The premise: Wilson’s epic Pittsburgh Cycle is one of the most ambitious undertakings in modern American theater: 10 plays about the Black experience, each set during a different decade of the 20th century. First produced in 2003, this poetic play — which comes first chronologically — is set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District in 1904, and it follows the formerly enslaved, 285-year-old Aunt Ester Tyler, who invites troubled souls into her home and takes them on a spiritual journey to the mythical City of Bones.
Why you should see it: The show is returning to the theater where it premiered in 2003.
Book a ticket: Goodman Theatre
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.