cover image Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale of Harlem’s Legendary Theater

Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale of Harlem’s Legendary Theater

Ted Fox and James Otis Smith. Abrams ComicArts, $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4197-3138-9

When Fox, “a wet-behind-the-ears white kid with few bona fides,” began asking about Harlem’s then-dilapidated Apollo Theater for his landmark 1983 history, the response was immense. As recounted in this updated graphic adaptation, Dionne Warwick called Fox and said, “I’ve been waiting my whole life for somebody to tell that story!” Her referrals connected Fox to a trove of legends—including Sammy Davis Jr., Gladys Knight, and Ahmet Ertegun—who filled Fox’s notebooks with stories about how one theater became the lodestar for America’s black music and culture. A onetime vaudeville house, the Apollo became a proving ground for most of the 20th century’s great musicians (from Ella Fitzgerald and Lionel Hampton to Jimi Hendrix and James Brown), plus comedians such as Redd Foxx and “hoofers” such as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Later, the Apollo’s raucous amateur nights broke or toughened performers from Lauryn Hill to Dave Chappelle. Smith’s exuberant lines ably transmit the book’s dense energy, as though the narrative is at risk of breaking its bounds, but his thin, rough characterizations don’t always do justice to the material. This is a vibrant, exultant, and soulful history. Agents: Pete Friedrich and Joan Hilty, Pageturner. (Jan.)