Everything you need to know about 'Paradise Square' on Broadway
Learn more about this Tony Award-winning musical about little-known New York history.
Spend a few hours in "a little bit of Eden" at Paradise Square, a new original musical on Broadway in the 2022 season. With a cast of 40 to perform rousing ensemble songs and vibrant dance numbers choreographed by dance legend Bill T. Jones, Paradise Square is a return to the mega-musicals of the 1990s and the early 2000s, sharing themes and styles with shows like Ragtime that have come before it.
Tony Award winner Joaquina Kalukango stars in Paradise Square as Nelly, a free Black woman who owns a bar called Paradise Square in lower Manhattan. She's created a near-paradise where free Blacks and Irish immigrants can harmoniously drink, dance, and debate — but as the Civil War rages on and the Draft Riots break out, tensions come to a boil. Still, her bar serves as a beacon of what America could be, and the musical aims to offer audiences that same hope.
The musical began as a humble — and vastly different, plot-wise — Off-Off-Broadway show 10 years ago before being worked and reworked into an original Broadway show. Learn all about the show's journey, the real history behind the musical, and information about the venue and running time to know before you join the patrons of Paradise Square at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.
What is Paradise Square about?
Paradise Square is centered around the titular saloon, owned by the free Black woman Nelly Freeman and her Irish husband, the Civil War soldier Willie. Willie's sister Annie Lewis and her husband, a Black man named Reverend Samuel Jacob Lewis, also help run the bar. Paradise Square is a (fictional) place in the center of the historic Five Points neighborhood of Manhattan where free Black people and Irish immigrants get along. However, it's 1863 and amid the Civil War, multiple events throw that harmony into turmoil.
For one, Annie's nephew, Owen, immigrates from Ireland and is quickly drafted into the war, prompting him to join the violent Draft Riots incited by hardened soldier Lucky Quinlan. For another, an escaped slave, Washington Henry, comes to the bar looking for someplace to hide while waiting for his girlfriend Angelina, which Nelly agrees to at personal risk to herself and her family. Meanwhile, Nelly plans a dance competition at Paradise Square with a cash prize large enough for a person to buy their way out of the draft, and Owen and Washington nearly come to blows over it. The tension is heightened still when Stephen Foster, a songwriter who's been playing piano at Paradise Square under a pseudonym, adapts Washington's escape story into a song and unwittingly alerts Frederic Tiggins, a corrupt party boss, and the police to Washington's status as a fugitive, making his public appearance at the dance competition a life- and freedom-threatening act.
Where is Paradise Square playing?
Paradise Square is running on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, at 241 West 47th Street between Eighth Avenue and Broadway. The theatre opened in 1928, and its facade and interior are now both designated New York City landmarks. The building was named for actress Ethel Barrymore, known as "The First Lady of the American Theatre." The Shubert brothers, who owned and operated the theatre, built it in her name after Barrymore agreed to let them manage her career. The Shubert Organization still owns the venue; it's one of 17 Shubert-owned theatres on Broadway.
How long is Paradise Square?
Paradise Square runs 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission, which is a standard running time for a Broadway musical. It's recommended that you eat before the show.
What days is Paradise Square playing?
Paradise Square plays eight performances a week at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The show typically runs Tuesday to Sunday, with two performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Paradise Square is dark on Monday, as is typical for most Broadway shows. For the complete weekly performance schedule and up-to-date show times, please visit the Paradise Square page to learn more.
When did Paradise Square premiere?
Paradise Square technically premiered in 2012 under the name Hard Times. That musical was heavily workshopped in the 10 years between that show's Off-Off-Broadway premiere and the premiere of Paradise Square as it appears on Broadway today.
- 2012: Larry Kirwan's musical Hard Times premieres Off-Off-Broadway at Nancy Manocherian's the cell theatre in Chelsea as part of the first Irish Theater Festival. The musical was inspired by the music of American composer Stephen Foster, and he and his wife, Janey, were the show's main characters. The plot focused on how he was desperate to find inspiration for new music and found it in a bar where Black and Irish people intermingled; his character arc would later become a subplot in Paradise Square.
- 2018: The musical premieres under the name Paradise Square for the first time at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. By the time the show got there, it had undergone extensive rewrites, eliminating the character of Janey Foster and reducing Stephen Foster's role. Two supporting roles from Hard Times — Nelly Freeman and Owen Duignan — became main characters, and major characters like Annie Lewis and Reverend Samuel Jacob Lewis were added. There were also three characters — Camp and Levi Butler, and Patrick Murphy — who were written in at this point, but were written out again for the Broadway production.
- 2021: Paradise Square has its pre-Broadway run in Chicago at the Nederlander Theatre, receiving mixed to positive reviews. One new role was written in for this iteration: Frederic Tiggens, the uptown party boss bent on shutting down the Paradise Square bar.
- 2022: Paradise Square opens on Broadway with the entire Chicago cast intact.
Who wrote Paradise Square?
Paradise Square has a large writing team. The musical has four bookwriters: Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Larry Kirwan and Craig Lucas, all of whom are veteran playwrights. There are also four people behind the music of Paradise Square. Original music is by Jason Howland, and original lyrics by Masi Asare and Nathan Tysen, but in addition to original songs, Paradise Square also features existing music penned by the 19th-century "father of American music" Stephen Foster. He's known for parlor and minstrel songs like "Oh! Susanna" and "Camptown Races," both of which feature in Paradise Square.
Paradise Square characters
Paradise Square has a massive ensemble cast, composed of people from all walks of life represented in 19th-century Five Points: free and enslaved Black Americans, Irish immigrants, rich politicians, and more. Here are the principal characters in Paradise Square.
- Nelly Freeman: A free Black woman who owns the Paradise Square tavern in Five Points. The bar is her livelihood, and she cherishes it as a place where people of different walks of life can meet and enjoy each other's company without incident. She is tough-willed but kind, and willing to help others even at personal risk to herself.
- Willie O'Brien: Nelly's husband, an Irishman. He is also Annie Lewis's brother. He is a soldier in the Civil War.
- Annie Lewis: Nelly's sister-in-law and Willie's sister, also Irish. She is headstrong and outspoken, and doesn't tolerate disrespect to her or her family. She helps Nelly run the bar.
- Reverend Samuel Jacob Lewis: Annie's husband, a Black man. He is the even-tempered foil to Annie's fiery personality. Lewis incurs the wrath of Lucky Quinlan, however, when he refuses to offer work to Lucky.
- Lucky Mike Quinlan: A hardened, bitter former Civil War soldier who lost an arm in the fight. He returns home from the war looking for work, but is unable to get any, and he blames Black Americans for taking his job. After Frederic Tiggens supports his anger at Black Americans and at the draft that forces so many unwilling men into the war, Lucky goes on to incite the Draft Riots.
- Owen Duignan: Annie's nephew, a young man in his 20s who has immigrated to America from Ireland just in time for the draft. He's terrified of being sent into war, but uses his strong dance talents to try and earn the money to buy his way out.
- Washington Henry: An escaped enslaved man traveling to Canada on the Underground Railroad. He stops in New York to wait for his girlfriend, Angelina Baker, from whom he was separated along the way. Besides being at large for escaping, the pair are also at large for murdering their master over his mistreatment of Angelina. Nelly shelters Washington in the guest room above her bar.
- Angelina Baker: Washington Henry's girlfriend, an enslaved woman who has escaped the plantation with Washington. Her name is taken from the Stephen Foster song "Angelina Baker," about an enslaved woman whose owner has sent her away.
- Stephen Foster: The real-life 19th-century songwriter who's often called "the father of American music." In Paradise Square, he arrives to Nelly's bar seeking work as a piano player and goes by an alias. He hears the work songs of the Irish and Black patrons of the bar and rewrites them, taking credit for them as his own songs.
- Frederic Tiggens: A New York City politician who opposes the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, and abolition. He endeavors to get Paradise Square shut down, believing that the mixing of races and exchange of ideas there is a threat to his election and power. He encourages Lucky Quinlan to pit himself and Irish immigrants against Black Americans, unwittingly inspiring Lucky to start the Draft Riots.
Paradise Square songs
Paradise Square contains both original music by Jason Howland, Masi Asare, and Nathan Tysen, as well as tunes from the songbook of Stephen Foster, like "Oh! Susanna" and "Angelina Baker." Foster is a character in the musical, too, and the plot explores how he profited off stories and music originated by enslaved Black people, so the use of his songs both acknowledges and interrogates the history behind them. Below are all the songs in Paradise Square and the characters that sing them.
- "Paradise Square" - Nelly, Annie, Willie, Rev. Samuel and Company
- "I'm Coming" - Owen, Washington and Angelina
- "Camptown Races" - Owen, Washington and Milton
- "Since the Day I Met You" - Willie and Nelly
- "Bright Lookout" - Rev. Samuel and Dockworkers
- "True to a Country" - Frederick, 'Lucky' Mike and Company
- "Oh Susanna" - Company
- "Gentle Annie" - Annie and Rev. Samuel
- "Why Should I Die In Springtime" - Owen and Company
- "I'd Be a Soldier" - Rev. Samuel, Washington and Company
- "Angelina Baker (Part 1)" - Washington
- "Welcome Home" - Nelly and Company
- "Angelina Baker (Part 2)" - Amelia and Uptown Women
- "Ring, Ring the Banjo" - Nelly, Annie and Company
- "Why Should I Die In Springtime (Reprise)" - Owen and Company
- "Angelina Baker (Part 3)" - Washington and Company
- "Someone to Love" - Nelly and Annie
- "One Match and One Man" - 'Lucky' Mike, Frederick and Company
- "Breathe Easy" - Angelina, Washington and Company
- "Hard Times" - Milton, Frederick and Company
- "No More" - Company
- "Let It Burn" - Nelly
- "Finale" - Company
Major productions of Paradise Square
Paradise Square is a new musical, so there haven't been many major productions yet. Early productions were met with positive reviews, however, so Paradise Square may have a long future with more engagements ahead of it.
- 2012 Off-Off-Broadway production: Paradise Square is based on Larry Kirwan's 2012 musical Hard Times. The action of that production is set in the same bar as the musical and includes many of the same characters, but Stephen Foster was the main character in that version. The New York Times named Hard Times a critic's pick.
- 2018 Berkeley production: This production was the first time the show used the name Paradise Square and underwent significant rewrites from the 2012 script, so it is regarded as the musical's world premiere. Berkeley Repertory Theatre premiered the show from December 2018 to March 2019, and six of the cast members in the current Broadway production originated their roles there.
- 2021 Chicago production: The monthlong run at Chicago's Nederlander Theatre — from November to December 2021 — marked Paradise Square's pre-Broadway engagement. The entire cast from that production would play their roles on Broadway. This production cut a few roles from the Berkeley production, including Stephen Foster's wife and the fictional characters of Levi and Camp Butler. The show opened to mostly positive reviews.
- 2022 Broadway production: Paradise Square is having its Broadway premiere at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, joining eight other new musicals opening this season.
Paradise Square awards
Paradise Square received 10 Tony Award nominations at the 2022 ceremony. Paradise Square took home one award: Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical win for Joaquina Kalukango. She also won the 2022 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical.
Watch Kalukango's performance of the Paradise Square song "Let It Burn" below, which brought the audience at the 2022 Tony Awards to its feet.
Fun facts about Paradise Square
Plenty of real-life American history features in Paradise Square, including the birth of modern tap dance and the origin of Stephen Foster's music. Learn more about the 19th- and 21st-century artistic history that led to Paradise Square as it's performed today.
- Paradise Square is based on the musical Hard Times, an Off-Off-Broadway show that premiered in 2012 and was conceived by Larry Kirwan, one of Paradise Square's bookwriters.
- Paradise Square rounds out a trio of musicals all produced by Canadian producer Garth Drabinsky. Though the most recent to be written, Paradise Square (set in 1863) is chronologically the first part, preceding Show Boat (set between 1887 and 1927) and Ragtime (set in the early 1900s). The musicals all share themes of the relationships and tensions between different racial groups in historic America.
- Modern jazz and tap dancing were born out of a fusion between African and Irish dance styles. It's in places like Five Points where this fusion historically happened, and choreographer Bill T. Jones honors that in Paradise Square, including multiple numbers where characters perform these styles and borrow from each other as the show progresses.
- Paradise Square incorporates the music of Stephen Foster, but includes him as a character and shows how he, now controversially, turned emotional work songs created by slaves into rosy, bright tunes. It's not the first musical to do something similar: The plot of the musical Something Rotten! riffs on the theory that Shakespeare's work was actually penned by other authors and includes him as a character, though that musical does so for comedic effect unlike Paradise Square.
- Early versions of Paradise Square included more songs and characters that were cut for the Broadway version. Cut characters include Thomas Jefferson (only included in Hard Times) and Janey Foster, the wife of Stephen Foster (in Hard Times and the Berkeley premiere of Paradise Square). Conversely, the character of Frederic Tiggens was added later, for the pre-Broadway and Broadway runs.
How to get Paradise Square tickets
Fans of historical musicals, lively dancing, and new work will find something to enjoy in Paradise Square. Not only does the show take audiences back to 1863, but with a 40-person ensemble and mega-musical flair, Paradise Square takes audiences back to a past era of musical theatre.
Top image credit: Jacob Fishel as Milton Moore, Sidney DuPont as Washington Henry, and A.J. Shively as Owen Duignan in Paradise Square. (Photo by Kevin Berne)
Originally published on