The Apollo Theater has seen more great acts than nearly any other venue. It’s one of the oldest theaters in the United States, and certainly one of the most instantly recognizable. Since its opening in 1934, it has served as a landmark at 125th Street in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. Students in this fall’s New York Program trekked uptown on Oct. 17 to attend a show at The Apollo.
By the time we walked in, the show’s host had taken four members of the audience onstage to introduce themselves in song and perform a short dance solo in front of the crowd that was still trickling in. He welcomed us to Amateur Night and introduced the Apollo Amateur Night Band with an enthusiastic bassist, drummer, keyboardist and guitarist—and finally our emcee: Comedian Capone.
Comedian Capone instantly energized the entire crowd, with the 15 New York Program students Professor Chris Georges, and Opus co-owner Sarah Goldstein, right in step. We packed in and sang along to his call-and-response opening, despite the fact we were in the “bougie seats”—the emcee’s name for the bourgeois bottom row intruding on the bohemian Apollo. He called up the sides of the theater to the four gold leaf-lined boxes (the only gilt allowed in a theater where classic red velvet fabric still adorned the walls) and poked fun at the VIPs who were more than willing to play along.
The one odd juxtaposition (besides, perhaps, us) in the entire theater was a new smartphone-based initiative to make boo’s and insults digital rather than vocal. The transition was the only evidence of Apollo’s Talent Night withdrawing from its historic roots of shouting and jeers.
After all entrants performed and in the Talent Night and a winner was chosen, Capone took the audience to the show’s outro, where each member of the Apollo Amateur Night Band soloed on his respective instrument and the audience danced in their seats. As Capone remarked, it felt like we were in a club and church at the same time. Truly, only at the Apollo.