Off Broadway Plays: On Top their Game in Entertaining

By Meta J. Mereday


With the musical “FELA” making a successful jump from off Broadway to the “Great White Way” with great reviews and repeat audiences; it is becoming more and more apparent that the quality of off Broadway plays has stepped up tremendously. 

New York City is becoming the leading “staycation” spot for American tourists planning domestic travel and a night at the theater is high on their wish lists. 

What better location to see quality entertainment at more affordable prices than the aspiring assortment of off Broadway plays?   The diversity of the plays just off Theater Row has increased and the range encompassing musicals, dramas, comedies and revivals provides an extensive array for tourists and residents alike to enjoy. 

For African Americans seeking historical references in theater can benefit greatly from the empowered performance that is tucked away, but not far from the bright lights, sidewalk bistros and t-shirt vendors.

“Black Angels Over Tuskegee” is an off Broadway play that showcases the unsung heroes who were just on the perimeter, but who left significant marks on United States history and the art of war both foreign and domestic.

            Written by award-winning playwright/director Layon Gray, “Black Angels Over Tuskegee” follows the recruitment, basic training and battlefield experience of six African American males who came from different parts of the country to a Utah military base in the 1940s to become a part of the acclaimed Tuskegee Airman. 

What sets this play apart from other productions relating to this historic endeavor is the interpersonal relationships developed by the cast who portray the African American male experience in the most positive and proactive light that has ever been cast upon Broadway or off Broadway plays. 

 Gray stated that the back story is factual with many historic references to the World War II period as it pertains to the Black experience. However, the characters were all created in his head. 

It is a production you have to experience it for yourself. Many of the actual Tuskegee Airmen, who have seen the production, interacted with the cast and shared their true life encounters as the storied airmen who, despite hatred and discrimination, still achieved greatness with distinction and dignity.

The portrayals in the play highlighted the intelligence of African American males and their passionate belief that they could make a difference in their treatment at home by fighting the enemy abroad.

The coming together as friends brought home the message about the camaraderie of those who serve and especially the sacrifices made by soldiers of color who continued to step up despite the treatment they received from their own country.  

“Black Angels Over Tuskegee” was the recipient of the 2009 NAACP Award for “Best Ensemble” in addition to the 2009 Artistic Director Achievement Award for “Best Play.”  

This is just one of the productions from the Black Gents of Hollywood, a group whose mission is geared towards highlighting productions that counteract the negative images that dominate the roles for African American males and showcases broader stories and positive roles.

Off Broadway plays provide a much richer opportunity for the story such as “Black Angels Over Tuskegee” to develop because the production team does not have to worry as much about the expenses attached to Broadway shows as well as to pour extensive dollars into extensive sets and flashy costumes.

Off Broadway plays are more intimate and less staged to allow for richer experiences that are evident in “Black Angels Over Tuskegee.”

For a cost saving and entertaining adventure where engaging dialogue meets historic venues, take in an Off Broadway play, where productions are on top of their game and the focus is on you.






Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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