Review | Half a century on, ‘for colored girls’ shines again

Photo: Marc J. Franklin

As Broadway reopened back in the fall, it played host to a remarkable renaissance of new plays by and about Black men and women (“Pass Over,” “Chicken and Biscuits,” “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” “Clyde’s,” “Skeleton Crew”), in addition to the Broadway premieres of “Lackawanna Blues” and Alice Childress’ “Trouble in Mind” (which had been slated to play Broadway 65 years ago).

Now, as the new season reaches the finish line, the time has come for a new production of Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,” one of the most influential and successful works of Black drama of the 20th century.

Described by Shange as a “choreopoem,” “for colored girls…” explores the joyful and painful experiences of seven Black women (who are identified by the colors of the rainbow) through poem, monologue, dance, music, chant, and visual art. Shange, who died in 2018, also makes a brief appearance via a recording.

“for colored girls…” was originally produced Off-Broadway in 1976 at the Public Theater and then transferred to Broadway’s Booth Theatre, where it went on to become, as noted in the show’s Playbill, “the longest-running play by an African-American writer and the first successful feminist play in Broadway history.”

The current revival also originated Off-Broadway at the Public Theater, premiering right before the pandemic in 2019, with direction by Leah C. Gardiner and choreography by Tony nominee Camille A. Brown (“Once On This Island,” “Choir Boy”). With Brown now also serving as both director and choreographer, “for colored girls…” is once again playing Broadway’s Booth Theatre.

“for colored girls…” is the kind of nonlinear and visceral theatrical piece that should be experienced live and does not translate well to other mediums, as demonstrated by a flat 1982 TV adaptation for PBS and Tyler Perry’s ambitious but problematic 2010 film adaptation. (That being said, filming a pro-shot recording of the current production for a streaming provider like Netflix might not be a bad idea.)

It is also a challenging piece to appreciate or understand, especially given its oblique, idiosyncratic, and choppy style, as well as its different subject matter (dealing with rape, abortion, mental illness, and even infanticide).

Brown, who has become the first Black woman to serve as a director-choreographer on Broadway in 65 years, was an ideal choice for helming the revival, infusing it with modern dance and coordinating its visual and lyrical elements into a striking pattern. The seven women (including Amara Granderson, Tendayi Kuumba, Kenita R. Miller, Okwui Okpokwasil’i, Stacey Sergeant, Alexandria Wailes, and D. Woods) handle their solo pieces beautifully while also forming a tightly-knit ensemble.

Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St., forcoloredgirlsbway.com. Through Aug. 17.