The groundbreaking song-and-dance show “Soul Train” is chugging toward Broadway.
Stage and film producer Matthew Weaver, who helped create “Rock of Ages,” has acquired the theatrical stage rights to the TV show and said Tuesday he’s hoping to repeat his success by turning “Soul Train” into a show that attracts both die-hard Broadway fans and those who usually avoid Times Square.
“I’m nervous and I’m humbled and I’m excited,” said Weaver, who heads the production company MediaWeaver Entertainment. “I do think we’re the right people to do it because I think it’s got to have that spirit of ‘Rock of Ages,’ which is part old-fashioned musical but also part party.”
“Soul Train,” with its trademark animated train opening, provided a national, weekly showcase for R&B artists, black culture and fashion, and gave advertisers an entree to the black consumer market. It later had to compete with video shows on BET that broadcast black artists, and eventually MTV and VH-1.
The TV show, a sort of black version of “American Bandstand,” featured such acts as James Brown, Al Green, Ike and Tina Turner, Hall & Oates, Donna Summer, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Whitney Houston, David Bowie, Prince, Run D.M.C. and Destiny’s Child during its 35-year run. Moves that “Soul Train” dancers developed spread nationwide.
Don Cornelius started the music and dance show in 1970 in Chicago and served as its host until 1993. It aired in syndication from 1971 until 2006 and spun off an awards show that is still aired. Cornelius killed himself in 2012.
Weaver recalled growing up in New York and making sure to watch “Soul Train” every Saturday morning, mesmerized by the dance, fashion and music. He plans to next hire a writer and get music rights. His only timeframe for the stage is “when the story’s right.”
“‘Rock of Ages’ is an awesome show, but it’s not just because we have ‘Sister Christian’ and ‘Don’t Stop Believin” and serve liquor in the aisles that that show is still running five years later. It’s still running because we have a great story and great characters,” said Weaver.
“To me, that’s the heart of ‘Soul Train’ — a great story and great characters. The music will be great, the fashion will be great, the ambiance, the vibe. But if you don’t have a good story, none of that means anything.”
Weaver, who produced such films as “We’re the Millers” and “The Heartbreak Kid,” has grown “Rock of Ages” into an international brand, with a film version, three national tours and productions of the show in Las Vegas, London, Australia, Toronto, Japan and South Korea.
With 35 years of music on “Soul Train,” Weaver has plenty of song possibilities, depending on what the final story is. But he’s hopeful he can build a powerful score. “We had a lot of luck on ‘Rock,’ so hopefully we have the same karma here,” he said.