Thursday, Dec. 1, was an exciting evening on Broadway: the official opening of the new Jordan E. Cooper comedy “Ain’t No Mo’” at the Belasco Theatre on W. 44th Street. The play was written by and stars Jordan with five other cast members, referred to as Passenger 1, Passenger 2, Passenger 3, Passenger 4 and Passenger 5.
The premise of the play is that the U.S. government is trying to get all Black people out of this country by offering them free one-way tickets back to Africa. It doesn’t matter if you were born there or not; if you are Black, you are going.
Cooper first presented this work at the Public Theatre and even though he uses vignettes that can be funny, engaging and sometimes serious, he is providing a commentary to get people thinking about how Blacks are mistreated in these United States of America. The red carpet was a marvelous place to be and I want to share some of the interviews.
Regarding being on Broadway, Cooper said, “All day, I’ve been saying literally I’m standing in the middle of a dream. I’ve been wanting to be here since I was seven years old, putting on plays in my mama’s livingroom. And just to think that I’m actually here, my feet are actually touching the ground and that I’m in it and it’s a story that means so much to me, it’s wild. God is so good.”
Talking about his journey with the production, he said, “I started writing it in 2016 and it all came to me and I had to take my time. The characters started coming and the scenes started coming and I workshopped the play at Spellman and Morehouse…I was so happy the way my people lifted me up and then the Public put it on and then Lee Daniels got it and now we are here.”
Cooper goes through many emotions throughout this production, explaining how he can do it show after show. “It’s the passion to tell the story and the passion for the people. I love the fact that I get to meet new people every night. No audience is the same. That’s what gets me: I get to tell the story with a new audience every night.”
Lead producer Lee Daniels was very excited to be behind this production. This is a first for him to produce on Broadway. What grabbed his interest? “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said. “I hadn’t seen anything like this since I was a kid and I stole my mom’s El Dorado to come and see ‘Dreamgirls’ at the Imperial. I knew that I had to be a part of this world after seeing ‘Dreamgirls’—it changed my life. Not since that have I seen something that I knew was going to be impossible to do on Broadway. I knew everybody told me ‘Don’t do it, you’re going to lose your money.’ If I lose my money and 10 people see this and walk away changed, then I’m good. I’m shepherding someone. When I was his age, there was nobody—no writer, no directors—let alone gay filmmakers—that I could look up to. So it’s important to me at 63 to pass it on. This show inspires me.
“I thought I knew it all, but I don’t. I’m learning about myself through this work,” Daniels added.
Ebony Marshall-Oliver, an original cast member, said she cried when she got the call that the show was going to Broadway. “This show is a wild ride, but it’s a good ride. You will laugh, cry; you will feel some type of conviction and joy!” About the multiple characters she plays, “I had to be specific as to who each of these people are and use the body language that goes with them,” Marshall-Oliver said.
Kedren Spencer, an understudy with the production, said the show’s breaking of the fourth wall is “a commune where you get to fellowship with the audience, and it’s incredible.” The timing for this show is perfect, according to Spencer. “When Obama became president, a lot of sores were ripped open…We came from a hopeful place, but there’s a lot of work to be done. It shows how much Americanness is Blackness. This country would not be what it is if it weren’t for Black people.”
Marchant Davis, an original cast member, proclaimed, “It’s a wild ride. It’s exciting to be on Broadway. I feel like we’re home now and everybody gets to come share it with us.” Doing multiple characters is draining, according to Davis. “It’s a rollercoaster. There’s joy inside of me, but I have to conserve it to be able to give what Jordan has written all the life and commitment it deserves.”
Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union, co-producers of the show, talked about why they are behind this production. Union explained, “I wanted to work alongside him, knowing his brilliance, knowing this piece, because it comes from love and a celebration of Blackness and Black people and our collective history. You have to be a part of that and be excited about that, and we are.”
“I remember hearing about ‘Ain’t No Mo’’—it was different,” said Wade. “I heard about this 23-year-old that was going to change how we think about things and it opened doors for us in this industry. To be here four years later and be a part of the producing team—we are super honored to be able to amplify his story, his thoughts, but it’s for all of us. We look forward to going in and laughing and just experiencing it.”
Others on hand included Broadway director Kenny Leon, singer Deborah Cox, Brittney Ing from “The Ms. Pat Show” on BET+ (a show that Jordan created) and many others.