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Apollo's show offers a tuneful tour of Harlem

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It's where stars have been born and legends made for more than 80 years.

Only now, the performances at the newly renovated Apollo Theatre are supported by a state-of-the-art sound system and lighting equipment. Theatergoers can also enjoy the performances in an air-conditioned, newly carpeted house.

Audiences are welcomed into a chandelier-lit lobby, lined with photos and collages of those who have made music history. The voices of Aretha Franklin and Josephine Baker, Diana Ross and The Supremes, and the Jackson Five echo through the wide, sloping auditorium, linking the new "Harlem Song" to almost a century of tradition. The revue is the first permanent installation in the legendary Apollo Theatre's 88-year history.

When a team of producers and investors, including Herb Alpert and Whoopi Goldberg, decided to launch "Harlem Song," which chronicles the life and times of black America's spiritual and cultural mecca, they turned to George C. Wolfe.

Reflecting such diverse predecessors as Studs Terkel's "Working," Jerry Herman's "Hello Dolly!" and Wolfe's own "Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk," Wolfe has written and directed a sprawling, tuneful tour through Harlem's colorful, and sometimes painful, life and times.

His "Harlem Song" opens with a cakewalk silhouette that morphs into the introduction of the show's primary host character, a chatty, effervescent peacock named Miss Nightingale.

Throughout the intermissionless, 90-minute pastiche, musical numbers written especially for the show by Zane Mark and Daryl Waters compete well with songs from the last century, such as Duke Ellington and Nick Kenny's "Take the A Train," and Billy Strayhorn's "Drop Me Off in Harlem." The songs keep the story flowing seamlessly from decade to decade.

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