125th Street , a new musical from Rob Bettinson and Alan Janes, the creaters of 'Buddy', is confirmed for The Shaftesbury Theatre opening 17th Sep 02, following previews from 30th Aug 02 and booking to 4th Jan 03 (Booking is now open!!)

Rob Bettinson and Alan Janes' long-running musical Buddy , the story of Buddy Holly , closed at the Strand Theatre on 3rd March 02, after a run of over 12 years in the West End. It won Olivier Awards for Best New Musical and another for Best Actor in a Musical in 1991.

125th Street celebrates the music of the black groups of the '60s.

It’s 1969, there’s a man on the moon and the old-school, over-the-hill, well-past-his-sell-by-date TONY SORRENTO is about to present his BIG NIGHT OUT live on national television from the APOLLO THEATRE in Harlem, New York. What happens over the ensuing two hours is captured in 125TH STREET, a new musical that makes electric entertainment out of the sixties’ clash of cultures, generations and ideologies.

Tony is the everyman, 1950’s celebrity host: a man irretrievably without it, as the world gets with it. The deeply uneasy Tony has been pushed into the cool, hip, black groove by a producer who sees extinction looming for the nation’s leading variety dinosaur. But the top acts – Aretha, James, Marvin and Dionne – haven’t turned up, Tony’s ejected the popular, high energy MC Georgie Blues from the building, there’s only one amateur available for the favourite Search for a Star feature, the streets are burning outside, and the audience is locked in the theatre.

In the end, Tony enlists a rag-bag of back-stager, hopefuls and middle of the road, no-hopers to run the show, including Bish Bosh and Gracie (the crew), popcorn and sandwich seller Solomon Burke, and SCREAMING Jay Hawkins, the venue’s resident serial parent, speciality voodoo act. The single beacon of hope is a storming performance from the hastily constructed Harlem Chick Girl group (created from an in-house backing trio).

By half-time, the power’s gone, the outside broadcast unit’s been diverted to cover the riot outside, the audience is trapped, looted goods are flooding in like the testosterone pouring round SCREAMING Jay’s system, Bish Bosh is making a bee-line for Mabeline the stage manager. The been-there-seen-it-all-done-that theatre boss Mo Finkle has been exposed as a double-dealing shyster, the punters are getting restive, SOLOMON’s selling stolen booty to the crowds and Tony Sorrento’s love affair with the bottle has begun. Where will it all end?

The real APOLLO THEATRE is still open in Harlem. It’s the legendary home that nurtured such talents as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Billy Holiday, Sammie Davis Jnr and Charlie Parker. For many, many years it served as an informal agency, news hub, grapevine, community focus and epicentre for the black music industry.

The Apollo was where a fascinated young man from Memphis sat and watched and learned his craft in the early ‘50s; it’s where James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Dionne Warwick and anybody you care to mention took their first tentative steps into performance; it was a magnet for the biggest names in the R&B and rock business, who visited to pay homage to its extraordinary influence; it was home to the most appreciative audiences in the industry, but ones that demanded respect from performers (the entire theatre emptied en masse when Nina Simone got an attitude on her one night). If an artist could make it with the crowd at the Apollo, they knew they could break it anywhere in the world.)

This is the true inspirational story that underpins this most vital of musicals. Part of that true story is the amateur night. Where hopefuls such as James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Gladys Knight went on to become stars.

When 125th Street opens in London, there’ll be an authentic amateur appearing every night. Who knows what could come of it?


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