Abrons Arts Center Presents
Directed by Joshua William Gelb
Composed and Music Directed by Nehemiah Luckett
September 24th – October 12th
Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand Street, Manhattan)
$25 / https://www.
$25 / https://www.
Abrons Arts Center is proud to present the world premiere of jazz singer, a theatrical exhumation of the first feature-length “sound film” The Jazz Singer, reinterpreted by director and performer Joshua William Gelb and composer and performer Nehemiah Luckett. Set on the Lower East Side, the 1927 film tells the story of a “jazz crooner” forced to choose between his immigrant Jewish heritage and his aspirations of becoming a Broadway star. Though the film is historically significant for its integration of synchronized sound, it is most remembered for its controversial use of blackface. Gelb and Luckett’s musical rendering offers a contemporary take on this distinctly American story, one that interrogates appropriation, assimilation, atonement, and whether escape from the specter of blackface is possible.
Contemplating the surprising absence of Jazz in the original film, Luckett has composed an original score for piano, saxophone, electronics, and vocals that pries open this problematic cultural artifact. In a full embrace of the key tenets of Jazz, a different guest improvisor, curated by rising star trumpeter Alphonso Horne, will join the performance each night. Additional performers include Cristina Pitter and Stanley Mathabane.
In this act of reevaluation, Gelb, a Jewish American, and Luckett, a Black American, use their respective cultural heritages to build a complex inquiry into the performance of American racial identity today. Together, they probed The Jazz Singer to reveal what it says about contemporary America and, in particular, the Lower East Side’s transformation from a Jewish ghetto to a hyper-gentrified neighborhood. “In so many ways, The Jazz Singer is a classic immigrant coming of age story set in New York,” says co-creators Gelb and Luckett. “It asks, ‘What does it mean to be an American? How do you reconcile your dreams with the expectations of your family?’ Though notoriously known for its use of blackface, so many other issues – race, religion, family, the struggle of immigrants – live in the shadows of the film. We’re fascinated that this nearly 100-year-old film has entered our cultural consciousness, yet most of us have never seen it. By bringing Jazz back into The Jazz Singer, we’re hopeful the film and its many themes can be relevant to a 21st Century audience.”