Friends, over the last couple of months ABRAMS Books has been incredibly kind to us on this site. Sending us review copies of their recent publications like The Faithful Spy, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Lafayette!, as well as Lovecraft. All three of these have a slant towards history and that is of course exactly where Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale of Harlem’s Legendary Theater belongs – fitting as the famed theater is celebrating it’s 85th anniversary this year. This new graphic novel, which was released to bookstores today, draws back the curtain on the history of the legendary theater. In addition it features interviews and anecdotes from those that performed at the Apollo as well as those who worked hard behind the scenes to keep the doors open.
Showtime at the Apollo was written by Ted Fox and features captivating illustrations by James Otis Smith. For what it’s worth this graphic novel is an adaptation of sorts of Fox’s 1983 book Showtime at the Apollo: The Story of Harlem’s World Famous Theater – the only definitive history of the iconic location. It’s easy to see why critics and fans alike would heap praise on what Fox accomplished, I mean the book has memories of the venue from the likes of Dionne Warwick, Paul McCartney, Little Anthony, and Gladys Knight to name a few.
I’ve mentioned this in past reviews of books that focus on history or personage from the past – the key to creating a page-turner is obviously not to make it stuffy. I am more than happy to report that Fox and Smith have nothing to worry about with their new graphic novel. The history of the Apollo Theater begins back in 1914 – although it wasn’t until 1922 that theater would feature the Apollo name on it’s signage – in this case the Apollo Burlesque. Through the years the Apollo has entertained the masses with vaudeville, comedians, musicians, and even Gospel performers. It has had all manner of music genres played in it’s auditorium from jazz, swing, soul, hip-hop and so much more. That is naturally why the Apollo Theater became such an important location to not just the residents of Harlem – although it’s significance to the people of the neighborhood cannot be understated – but to all lovers of music and entertainment.
Showtime at the Apollo presents an incredible behind the curtain look at the generations of people who gave of their souls and talent to the audience. Fox presents both the good and bad of the Apollo’s history but it never focuses solely on the maudlin. The book is a celebration of the theater after all, although it firmly reminds us of the obstacles that sadly the people of Harlem and many of the African-American community itself had to endure.
From the ABRAMS books press release:
“Since its inception as an African-American theater in 1934, the Apollo, and the thousands of entertainers who performed there, have led the way in the presentation of swing, bebop, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, soul, funk and hip-hop—along with the latest in dance and comedy. The Apollo has nurtured and featured thousands of artists, many of whom have become legends. The beauty they have given the world—their art—transcends the hatred, ignorance, and intolerance that often made their lives difficult. Today, the Apollo enjoys an almost mythical status. With its breathtaking art, this graphic novel adaptation of Showtime at the Apollo brings to life the theater’s legendary significance in music history, African American history, and to the culture of New York City.”
Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale Of Harlem’s Legendary Theater is masterful at acting as a time machine – giving us a glimpse at the glory and glories to come for the Apollo Theater.