Streams

Apollo 'Amateur Night' Celebrates Broadway

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The famous Apollo Theater Marquee (Shahar Azran Photography)

Since 1934, Wednesdays at the Apollo Theater in Harlem have belonged to Amateur Night. This Wednesday night, instead of the grab-bag of spoken word, dance and all manner of music, the audience will rule on jittery newcomers singing Broadway repertoire.

The Apollo's resident historian and tour guide Billy Mitchell says that Broadway and the Apollo have a lot in common.

"We've had plays done here that were Broadway caliber," he said. "That the theater is located in Harlem is the only thing that makes it different. We have the capacity to do a production here at the Apollo that can be done at any theater house in Midtown."

Though tonight will be celebrating amateurs, the show will have some professional help. The event will be hosted by Broadway stars like Brian Stokes Mitchell, Tsidii Le Loka of "The Lion King" and Chaz Shepherd of "Dreamgirls."

Amateur Night at the Apollo may seem like small time stuff in the era of shows like "American Idol" and "The X Factor." But pop music historian Richard Carlin says that the Apollo stage is hallowed ground for performers.

"It's like Eric Clapton's guitar or John Lennon's eyeglasses or any kind of iconic place or iconic item," Carlin said, who has edited a book on the Apollo called "Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing." "It holds a kind of magic for people."

Performers who have graced the Apollo's Amateur Night stage include a teenaged Ella Fitzgerald (who won in 1934), Stevie Wonder, the Jackson Five and Lauryn Hill. Check out a performance from the former Fugee at age 13 below.

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