'Shuffle Along' Announces Abrupt Closing Date on Broadway

Shuffle Along Audra McDonald H 2016
Julieta Cervantes

Shuffle Along Audra McDonald H 2016

Despite the show landing 10 Tony nominations and firing up the box office, producer Scott Rudin has opted to end its run July 24 with the previously announced exit of Audra McDonald.

Any diehard Broadway fan will tell you that Audra McDonald is irreplaceable. But the producers of Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed are taking that quite literally.

In an unexpected announcement Thursday evening, lead producer Scott Rudin confirmed that the show will close July 24, the date that six-time Tony-winning star McDonald is scheduled to depart on extended maternity leave.

"Audra McDonald is the biggest star on Broadway, and audiences have been clamoring to see her in this role since the first preview of Shuffle Along in March of this year," Rudin said in a statement. "She is absolutely extraordinary in the show, and I am filled with gratitude for both her exemplary partnership on Shuffle Along and also for her remarkable resilience and fortitude in doing everything possible to play as many shows as she can, despite the circumstance of her pregnancy.

"We are thrilled that she and her husband, Will Swenson, are experiencing the opportunity to expand their family — and we wish them all good things as they approach the birth of their child this fall," continued Rudin. "It has, however, become clear that the need for Audra to take a prolonged and unexpected hiatus from the show has determined the unfortunate inevitability of our running at a loss for significantly longer than the show can responsibly absorb."

The decision to close came as a surprise to the theater community, given that the show had opened to predominantly positive reviews and demonstrated plenty of power at the box office. Since performances began at the Music Box Theatre, it has regularly played to capacity houses, grossing close to $1 million a week. The show's cumulative gross to date is $11.1 million. However, the anticipated drop in ticket sales after McDonald's exit clearly was impossible to ignore. Rhiannon Giddens had been announced to step in as her replacement.

Written and directed by George C. Wolfe, with choreography by Savion Glover, Shuffle Along is a reappraisal of the 1921 musical by songwriters Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake and librettists F.E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles, which marked the first time a production with an all-black creative team had made it to Broadway.

The show was nominated for 10 Tonys, including best musical, but walked away empty-handed on awards night, which was dominated by the 11 wins for Hamilton. In addition to McDonald, Shuffle Along stars Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry. The $12 million production will have played 38 previews and 100 regular performances by the time it closes.