THE BLACK CROOK
An Original, Magical, and Spectacular Drama in which is also played the history of author Charles M. Barras. adapted by Joshua William Gelb
In the year 1866 The Black Crook, by Charles M. Barras, was first produced at Niblo’s Garden and “at once caught the favor of the theatre-goers, who acknowledged it to be the spectacular wonder of the day” (Whitton, “An Inside History of The Black Crook”). Since then a strange rumor has surfaced transforming miraculously this simple entertainment into something much more distinguished: The First American Musical. Where this rumor began, I am not certain. Some attribute it to Leonard Bernstein, some to the production’s chronicler, Niblo’s treasurer, Joseph Whitton. Whatever the source, however, the validity of this generalization has been extensively disputed and is considered almost conclusively false.
“The music was written by a conglomeration of composers, rather than by one. There is a complete lack of collaboration between librettists and composers, with a consequent disunity of musical conception. As might be expected, the music fails to illuminate particular kinds of action or particular characters…” Julian Mates, America’s Musical Stage
Nevertheless, the rumor persists, namely because the cultural and artistic significance of The Black Crook (first musical or not) is irrefutable. From the rubble of the Civil War, the Black Crook emerged taking an entire country by storm; an unprecedented commercial juggernaut that contributed, whether first musical or no, to a popular melting-pot entertainment that blended art both high and low. The Black Crook is an origin story for the spectacle that is America, and 150 years after we shall exhume it once again.
The Black Crook was produced by Abrons Arts Center in 2016 in honor of the 150th anniversary of the original production, with assistance from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Creative Arts Fund Grant. Produced by Moe Yousuf. Adapted and Directed by Joshua William Gelb. With Dramaturgy and Additional Text by Dan O'Neil. Music Arranged by Alaina Ferris and Justin Levine. Choreography by Katie Rose McLaughlin. Scenic Design by Carolyn Mraz. Costume Design by Normandy Sherwood. Lighting Design by Bradley J. King. Sound Design by Matt Stine. Featuring Steven Rattazzi, Kate Weber, Randy Blair, Christopher Tocco, Jessie Shelton, Alaina Ferris, Merlin Whitehawk, Lizzie Hagstedt, and Sam Silbiger.
The Black Crook was first presented by Room5001 at the Independent Theater, 2007. Designed by Bradley King, Brittany O'Neil and Joshua William Gelb. Music Director by Randy Blair. Choreography by Miranda Barskey. Featuring Craig Jorczak, Kate Weber, Josh Isaacs, Sam Tedaldi, Randy Blair, Matt Sadowitz, Dane Agostinis, and Miranda Barskey.
It was subsequently workshopped at Naked Angels at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater in 2008 with Music Direction by Justin Levine and featuring Craig Jorczak, Sam Tedaldi, Pheobe Strole, Eric Clem, Theo Stockman, Randy Blair, Max Jenkins, and Kate Weber.