Soul Train, the iconic music variety series created and hosted by Don Cornelius beginning in 1971 that showcased black musicians both established and up-and-coming, could make Broadway a stop on its long-running journey. A musical based on the show, with a creative team that includes three of the leading black women working in theater today, could arrive on Broadway in 2021.
Playwright Dominique Morisseau (Ain’t Too Proud), director Kamilah Forbes (Meet Vera Stark) and choreographer Camille A. Brown (Choir Boy, Once on This Island) will form the nucleus of the creative team, with The Roots’ Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon) as an executive producer. (See below for the complete production team.)
The musical will feature more than 20 hit songs from the era while telling the personal story of Cornelius as he creates the television series. The series became TV’s primary showcase for soul, rock, R&B and, later, hip-hop. Nearly as popular as the stage acts was the in-studio audience, who taught the nation the latest dances. Cornelius ended each episode with his catchphrase “love, peace and soul.”
“I cannot wait,” said Morisseau in a statement, “to partner with this legendary creative team of incredible women to celebrate the history and the unsung heroes of our nation’s longest running televised music and dance series.”
Morisseau called Cornelius’ Soul Train, which debuted in 1971, “our culture’s most influential and legend-making endeavors.”
“Having grown up on this series,” she said, “and being immersed in the culture around it, I never knew what it took to make it the iconic staple that it is. Through the socio-political challenges both internally and externally, Don Cornelius’ uncompromised vision, and the revolutionary dance culture that the show made visible to the mainstream, there are a million handprints on what we know as Soul Train.”
Also exec producing will be Tony Cornelius, son of Don Cornelius, who died in 2012. Said Cornelius, “With many years of experience working directly with my father, I’m forever grateful and deeply humbled by the impact Soul Train has had on the culture at large both here and abroad. For 37 years, and with purpose, through music, dance and style, Soul Train brought Love, Peace & Soul to a national audience.”
The 2021 target date would mark the 50th anniversary of the TV series’ debut, which Cornelius said honors his father’s “accomplishments, creative vision and legacy” and that “a Broadway musical only emphasizes the impact Soul Train has had on our American fabric.”
The full production team includes producer Matthew Weaver (Rock of Ages) and Jeffrey Tick (former owner of Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater), along with general producing partner Richard Gay (5Pack Entertainment founder, and former EVP of Viacom’s Music Networks & BET Networks), all of whom announced the production today. Exec producing are Questlove, Cornelius, CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker (making his Broadway debut) and Live Nation Urban president Shawn Gee. Devin Keudell is serving as Executive Producer, with Bespoke Theatricals as General Manager. Nick Stern from Media Weaver will serve as a co-producer.
In 2016, BET Networks acquired the Soul Train, and is the home of the annual Soul Train Awards. The BET drama series American Soul, based on the Soul Train story, has been picked up for Season 2 by the network.