Paradise Square

How many of its 10 Tony nominations does this musical really deserve?

By Andrew Andrews

Juaquina Kalukango, Sidney DuPont and A.J. Shively star in Paradise Square at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, directed by Moises Kaufman with choreography by Bill T. Jones. Original image by George Catlin and others.

Nelly Freeman, the daughter of an escaped slave, operates the Paradise Square Saloon in New York City’s Five Points slum at the onset of the American Civil War.

When her husband, Willie O’Brien, joins the first all-Irish regiment in the United States and heads off to battle, Nelly is left to keep the favored canteen of both Irish immigrants and African-Americans in operation, despite efforts by a local political boss to shut her down.

Worse yet, Willie’s nephew Owen has just immigrated from the old country and needs a place to work and sleep, and Nelly’s brother-in-law has just asked her to harbor a fugitive slave (given the alias Washington Henry) until his girlfriend catches up on their route to Canada on the Underground Railroad.

Nelly devises a plan to hold a dance contest to raise money to keep the bar open, and both Owen and Washington plan to compete to earn the $300 prize.

Location of Five Points in New York City, mid 1800s. Original image from the Library of Congress.

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Andrew Andrews attended Paradise Square at Ethel Barrymore Theatre in Manhattan on Friday, May 27, 2022 @ 8:00pm to write this review.