Dancing in the Dark
Bert Williams (1874-1922) achieved success beyond his wildest dreams. An emigrant from the Bahamas, he was the first black entertainer in America to headline on Broadway, perform in the Ziegfeld Follies, and eventually own a musical company. As an entertainer, he was compared to Charlie Chaplin and W. C. Fields.
We join Williams in 1903, impersonating Shylock Homestead in Dahomey. The brilliant performer’s career was dependent on playing the “coon.” This fact embarrassed his family and outraged his race, but its appeal to whites was essential to his professional success. Williams hoped to reach white theater-goers by showing black characters exhibiting the same human feelings as others.
Through this biographical novel, the author reaches inside Williams’ mind and soul to show readers a sad man burdened with anguish over discrimination. Playing black characters, though highly profitable, proved difficult because of the stark differences between his work and life. His personal life grew steadily more unstable, as shown by his increased drinking habits and the growing distance between him and his wife, which led to multiple affairs. The realistic narrative and characters open an exceptional window into the lives of struggling black entertainers who seek a chance to help their people. Dancing in the Dark evokes the history of black society and theater in the United States and shows the suppression of discrimination upon even the most talented. Highly recommended.