Corbin Bleu on PBS ‘Black Broadway’ Special’s Jaw-Dropping Performances
PBS is celebrating Black History Month by capping off the celebration with a joyous concert special, Black Broadway: A Proud History, A Limitless Future featuring fan-favorites such as High School Musical alum Corbin Bleu.
Ahead of the concert’s onscreen debut, TV Insider caught up with the musical performer who is delivering two showstopping numbers in the two-hour presentation to discuss how the historic event came together. Filmed at the prestigious Howard University, the concert brings together iconic Black artists performing classics from shows like The Wiz, The Color Purple, Ragtime, and many more with the support of Howard and Morgan State University student choirs.
Below, Bleu previews what viewers can expect from the must-see evening of celebration and he opens up about bringing representation to younger generations as a Black Broadway performer.
How did you get involved with this concert celebration and how long did it take to put it all together?
Corbin Bleu: There is a whole creative team that is putting it together prior to the performers even coming on board, so I know that this is something that has been in the works for some time. When it came to my [involvement] that was pretty quick. I found out that they had reached out and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. It was an easy “hell yes.” It was such an incredible experience and such an important concert to not only be a part of but to witness.
We did film it back in October , but we’ve all been eagerly anticipating actually watching it. We have such an amazing array of performers and it really felt like not only was there a comfort level and pride in seeing our black culture represented in such a way, but everyone was supportive. And when I tell you every performance is a jaw-dropper… We had such an amazing reception from the audience at Howard University.
Howard is such a historic site for such an occasion. What was it like filming there?
It was continuously electric from the beginning to the end. The buzz in the room… I’ve heard, they really have actually been able to capture that and show it. You also had this audience of young college students, black performers, and aspiring performers seeing themselves up there on that stage. And the support was through the roof. One of my favorite moments was after the show, there was a young girl who had come backstage afterward in near tears and she just had this big beaming smile on her face, and she just went, “I love my people.” As someone who’s always been a musical theater nerd [obsessed with] all the MGM classic films, I didn’t always see myself up there on that screen. So it really was such a humbling moment to look across the stage and see my peers in such a successful light.
You talk about representation and not seeing yourself onscreen. How does it feel to know you’re a part of the representation for a whole generation of viewers who grew up with High School Musical?
I do think about it. It is something that I’m grateful for, that I get to be in that position. Also, I feel a great responsibility to be deserving of that position. I pride myself on my work ethic. I just always want to be able to forward the joy of musical theater and the performing arts. It has been such a beacon in my life. It was introduced to me at such an early age. I was very lucky both of my parents also come from a performing background. And I’m mixed, I have a white Italian mother and a Jamaican Black father. So I was able to sort of bridge that gap. That’s a whole other conversation because there’s that feeling of being a part of both worlds and yet not belonging in any world.
But beyond that, I actually did get to have that bridge whereas I know there are so many young people out there that haven’t had that bridge. So, to know I am that representation in a way, I just want to be deserving of it, and I want to continue to forward the love and inspiration that the arts are because it changes lives.
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When it came to your performances, did you have any choice in the song selection?
I did. They had sent an initial list of ideas for certain songs, and from the list, there were a couple of songs from Ragtime, but “Make Them Hear You” was not on that list initially. When I saw that list, immediately “Make Them Hear You” came to mind. I’m a huge Brian Stokes Mitchell fan. I’ve had so many encounters with him through the world of Broadway. I still fan out over him, he was one of the big inspirations for the type of music that I makes me go, “Oh my God, this is home.”
So this was my first opportunity actually getting to sing that song at this kind of a caliber on a stage and it felt so good. I truly hope I get to do a lot more of it. The other song I chose was [“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love Baby”]. I just recently finished playing Cab Calloway in a biopic about Mahalia Jackson called Remember Me, and when I was doing a dive on him and just trying to get into his character, I came across [that song]. What I love about Cab is he’s so versatile and he knows how to tap into that sound that you didn’t hear a whole lot of. You had a lot of jazz musicians and jazz singers, but that old Hollywood feel, he really just did embody that and I wanted to honor that.
Black Broadway: A Proud History, A Limitless Future, Special Premiere, Tuesday, February 28, 8/7c, PBS, PBS.org & PBS App