Broadway may soon get its own "Soul Train."
A new musical inspired by the long-running music and dance variety television program, which showcased black music and culture for an audience of millions, will center on Don Cornelius, the former disc jockey who created the show in 1970. Producers are aiming for a Broadway premiere in 2021.
Three prominent black women in contemporary theater will form the core creative team. Dominique Morisseau ("Skeleton Crew" and "Pipeline"), a 2018 MacArthur grant winner, is writing the script; Camille A. Brown ("Choir Boy") will choreograph; and Kamilah Forbes, executive producer for the Apollo Theater, will direct.
Ahmir Thompson, aka Questlove, the drummer for the Roots, is an executive producer alongside Don Cornelius' son, Tony Cornelius; Anthony E. Zuiker; Shawn Gee and Devin Keudell. Matthew Weaver, Jeffrey Tick and Richard Gay are general producing partners.
"Soul Train," which left the air in 2006, played a significant role in bringing the music and dance of black America — particularly R&B, soul and hip-hop — into the cultural mainstream, featuring guest musicians like James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. Arguably, the program is best known for the performances by in-studio dancers, many of whom had their careers kick-started by appearing on the show, including Rosie Perez and Carmen Electra.
"To me, 'Soul Train' is the story between Don Cornelius and the dancers that built that show," said Morisseau, who is still working on the script.
"I thought it would be so interesting to tell the story of the dancers and Don, in connection and in contrast and in contradiction and in conflict with each other."
Cornelius, who stepped down as host in 1993, was plagued by health problems later in life and killed himself in 2012. He was 75.
"Don Cornelius, to me, is like Hamlet," Morisseau said. "He is his best friend and his own worst enemy."
But his work left a lasting impression on the playwright, who remembered tuning into "Soul Train" every Saturday morning as soon as she was old enough to watch, finding in the series "a sense of pride and self-affirmation for who I was in the greater American culture."
"The thing that excites me," Morisseau said of the new musical, "is the way that we can make this an explosion, celebrating the origins of dance culture and the black cultural experience."