NEW YORK (AP) — In a rehearsal room near Times Square this week, some two dozen men with Broadway-honed voices huddled to strategize.
They were practicing choral work ahead of a landmark concert Monday at the mighty Carnegie Hall, and creator-producer Chapman Roberts knew what those voices will be facing.
"We will be accompanied by a 65-piece orchestra and they're going to be giving it all they got," Chapman said, triggering some nervous clapping. "Now there's a way to not compete with them. And that is: don't try."
Chapman and his singers have a very personal reason to get their sound just right: Their black tie, music-stacked, one-night-only concert celebrates the legacy of black men on Broadway.
"The Black Stars of the Great White Way" will feature the music of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Louis Jordan, Eubie Blake, Cab Calloway and Paul Robeson. Tickets range from $35-$200.
Stars such as Ben Vereen, Andre De Shields, Cecily Tyson, Phylicia Rashad, Chuck Cooper, Savion Glover and Chita Rivera will be on hand, and original cast members from "Five Guys Named Moe," ''Smokey Joe's Cafe," ''Motown" and "The Scottsboro Boys" will sing.
The nine honorees include household names like actor Robert Guillaume to pioneers like Geoffrey Holder, a principal dancer at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1955, and the dancer-choreographer Louis Johnson, whose credits include "Damn Yankees."
"The accomplishments have gone unnoticed and we are having a good time digging it up and celebrating with everybody," says Chapman, an original "Hair" cast member who became a Broadway musical supervisor and arranger.
The idea of the concert began with Norm Lewis, who, even before becoming Broadway's first black Phantom in "The Phantom of the Opera," had heard young men to call him an inspiration for roles in "Les Miserables" and "The Little Mermaid."
"I saw that and I said, 'If they're seeing me this way, I want to celebrate the people I felt that same way about — Robert De Shields, Robert Guillaume, Chapman Roberts.' No one had ever celebrated that. I wanted to celebrate black men on Broadway."
As the show's go-to guy, Roberts certainly has his work cut out. He anticipates a nonstop lineup of songs that culminates in all the performers — over 100, including seven Tony winners — sharing the stage for three songs. "We've never all been in same room together," says Roberts. "There's a huge legacy that's going to be on that stage."
The only downside is he has only 2½ hours to showcase decades of rich history. "I've condensed it as much as I possibly can," he said. "Basically, everyone's going to come out and go, 'Ba-da-bum-dum-dum' and Bam, they're out."
Adds Lewis with a laugh: "You won't be satisfied, but you'll be satiated."
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(Photo: Lisa Pacino/AP Photo)