Pound for pound, Amateur Night at the Apollo is New York City’s greatest entertainment bargain. As little as $22 snags a seat for this raucous Harlem happening, a celebrated incubator of next-gen talent across an array of disciplines—music, dance, comedy, rap, and spoken-word performance. It’s a place where a famously irascible audience—not a panel of friendly celebrity judges—calls the shots. “Be good or be gone” is the rule of the night.
This week, the Apollo Theater, at 253 West 125th Street, kicks off a new season of its Wednesday-night staple, with hopefuls of all ages vying for a spot in the October 10 Show Off, and onward to the Top Dog show on November 14 and the Super Top Dog show on November 21. The top prize for adult performers is $20,000 in cash. In addition to the usual lineup of talented hopefuls, the season opener will feature a performance by the cast of the Broadway production of Once On This Island, the 2018 Tony Award-winner for best musical revival.
For the uninitiated, Amateur Night is no mere talent show. It’s a highly evolved spectacle, a noisy but good-natured gladiatorial contest with a scintillating house band and a gregarious host (comedian Capone) to keep things moving and a resident “executioner” (impressionist C.P. Lacey) to chase talent from the stage when the audience boos. And it works: Several of the show’s winners have gone on to greatness, perhaps none more than a teen-aged Ella Fitzgerald, who won the top prize in 1934. “I looked and I saw all those people, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do out here?’” she recalled decades later in an interview with National Public Radio. “Everybody started laughing and said, ‘What is she gonna do?’ And I couldn’t think of nothing else, so I tried to sing ‘The Object of My Affection.’”
The Corcoran Group in Harlem
Corcoran has a long and storied history in Upper Manhattan, led by overachieving agents like Hamilton Heights resident Tamara Marotta; Harlem-born-and-raised Tay Tiwoni; and Julia Boland, a resident of Harlem’s Mount Morris Park Historic District who finds time to serve on the board of the Harlem-based literacy group, The Reading Team.