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Lafayette Theatre: Macbeth (1936) 2227 Adam C. Powell, Jr. Blvd.

Today, few would imagine as they walk past 2227 Adam C. Powell Boulevard, that the building, currently home to Williams Institute C.M.E. Baptist Church, once housed Harlem’s famed Lafayette Theatre. In 1990 the church removed any discernible exterior clues by covering the theater’s distinctively arched windows and terra-cotta ornament with an unimaginative “more church-like facade” designed by architect Percy Griffin.

As a theater, its productions showcased many performers of the Harlem Renaissance, as did its popular and adjoining neighbor,
Connie’s Inn
2225 Seventh Avenue
once home to musical cabaret productions by Fats Waller, Andy Razaf and others. The Lafayette’s most legendary staging was to come in 1936 with the innovative “voodoo” production by the WPA Federal Theater Project’s Negro Theater Unit
of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Excitement… fairly rocked the Lafayette Theatre”
The New York Times

“This West Indian MACBETH is the most colorful, certainly the most startling, of any performance that gory tragedy has ever been given on this continent.” Daily News

Directed by Orson Welles,
the production was set in nineteenth-century Haiti and featured an all black cast, with the play’s witches portrayed as voodoo priestesses. The colorful costumes and jungle sets were designed by Nat Karson, later art director and set designer at the Radio City Music Hall. The highly successful production became famous for its dazzlingly
original use of lighting and sound, particularly the authentic voodoo drumming and chants composed by Harlem musical lumineres James P. Johnson, Porter Grainger and conducted by Joe Jordan. Macbeth launched the meteoric career of its novice director Welles, who was not yet twenty-one when it opened.

Newsreel: Macbeth, WPA Negro Theater Unit

Title – Macbeth
Author – William Shakespeare
Location – New York, NY (New Lafayette Theatre)
Date – Apr 14 – Jun 20, 1936
Genre – Drama/Tragedy
Director – Orson Welles
Composer – James P. Johnson, Porter Grainger, Joe Jordan
Conductor – Joe Jordan
Costume Designer – Nat Karson
Set Designer – Nat Karson

Macbeth – Jack Carter
Banquo – Canada Lee
Lady Macbeth – Edna Thomas
Macduff – Maurice Ellis

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