About the show


There have been shows set in Harlem of the Thirties before: Bubbling Brown Sugar, Eubie and Ain’t Misbehavin’. The musical The Cotton Club however is different. The stars of the famous Cotton Club era come to life experiencing all its loneliness, sorrows and joys because, whilst The Cotton Club was the nursery of stars like Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway en Duke Ellington, real life in the Harlem of the thirties was often a less glamorous affair. Venues maintained a policy of white-only audiences to see the legendary black stars perform and were run by gangsters quite prepared to murder in order to protect their lucrative livelihoods. Serving spirits alone, could be quite a money-spinner during those days of the Prohibition. The combination of danger, excitement and black talent made The Cotton Club a prime spot for the jet-set of New York who were its regular patrons, flocking nightly to drink champagne and enjoy the best jazz in town.

But behind the glamorous scenes the stars and chorus girls lived increasingly isolated lives, barred from the world of their enthusiastic patrons and becoming less and less welcome in their own world because they worked in a club which catered exclusively for whites. The audience, who cheered them at night, would not so much as glance at them in the street. A good example of this attitude is the story of Billy Holiday who when touring with a white band, was not allowed to stay in the hotel with the band. She was forced to spend her nights alone in the touring coach. It was only too easy for black stars to try and escape their sense of isolation and misery by taking drugs as Billy Holiday did.

The stars of The Cotton Club were working and living under the shadow of another threat. They were more or less the property of the Mafia ring who ran the Club and could make or break an artist, depending on their mood. Trying to resign was a dangerous undertaking.

Nevertheless many stars were born in this world and remain greatly loved in popular memory almost fifty years after The Cotton Club closed its doors. The musical The Cotton Club is a tribute to these legends, to their talent, their commitment and their love of music.


World première: 14 April 1989, Netherlands