[WORLD PREMIERE] jazz singer

jazz singer is a theatrical exhumation of the first feature-length “sound film” The Jazz Singer, reinterpreted by Joshua William Gelb and Nehemiah Luckett.  Set on the Lower East Side, the 1927 film tells the story of a “jazz crooner” forced to choose between his immigrant Jewish heritage and his aspirations to become a Broadway star. Though the film is historically significant for its integration of synchronized sound, it is also remembered for its controversial use of blackface. Gelb and Luckett’s musical rendering offers a contemporary take on a distinctly U.S. American story, one that interrogates appropriation, assimilation, atonement, and whether escape from the specter of blackface is possible.


Joshua William Gelb is a director, performer, and librettist based in the Lower East Side. Recent projects include a re-imagining of America’s supposed first musical The Black Crook at Abrons Arts Center, about which he lectured at Harvard. His work has been seen at Prelude, Ars Nova, Edinburgh Fringe, LMCC, The New Ohio, Incubator Arts, Joe’s Pub, Polyphone Festival, and Target Margin. He created/directed the Drama Desk Nominated, A Hunger Artist, which continues to tour internationally. Gelb is a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, an associate artist with Sinking Ship.

Nehemiah Luckett is a performer, composer, and conductor for over 20 years, with work featured in the US and Europe. He was a featured soloist at the National Cathedral and Carnegie Hall. He has composed solo, choral and instrumental pieces including Secular Mass (a five-movement work for chorus, string quartet, and oboe), Requiem for Arctic Ice: The Northernmost Part, and Kyrie 2017. He has also co-written musicals: Hamlet: Prince of Funk, and Brick by Brick. Nehemiah is the Music Director and Composer for Rev. Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, and the choral accompanist and Drama teacher for Manhattan Country School.


jazz singer is commissioned by Abrons Arts Center with generous grants from the Howard Gilman Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, the Harkness Foundation for Dance, the Jerome Foundation, the Jerome Robbins Foundation, the Scherman Foundation, and other generous Henry Street Settlement funders. This program is also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. This season was also made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Image: Jarrett Key