Michael R. Jackson proved that he has what it takes to write the book, music, and lyrics for a musical and relay a message with great power, joy, and passion, as evidenced by his Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning musical “A Strange Loop.” Upon hearing that he had written a musical called “White Girl in Danger,” playing at the Tony Kiser Theater at Second Stage (305 W 43rd Street), co-produced by Second Stage and the Vineyard Theatre, I was intrigued to see if he had done it again.
Sadly, he has not. This musical, which also features a book, music, and lyrics by Jackson, is a work in progress at best.
Looking at the way the entertainment business showcases white actors with storylines that feature them over Black actors, especially in the area of soap operas, Jackson gives us a town called Allwhite and a soap opera where the Allwhite Writer assigns meaty, wacky storylines to the three white lead actresses—Megan, Maegan, and Meagan—while the Black actors are relegated to the unimportant characters in the “Blackground.” They don’t get storylines, except those having to do with violence or slavery. One of the characters, Keesha, decides that she wants more: She wants a meaty storyline. Her mother character Nell advises her to stay with how she is written, as do other Black female characters, but Keesha is determined to be featured no matter what her character has to do. She is ready to assimilate to be accepted. The Allwhite Writer finds ways to cut off her attempts.
Before the musical begins, the audience sees a large screen on which snippets of soap-opera type-scenes are projected and hears the repeated phrase “White Girl in Danger.” During the musical, when the “Blackground” actors want more than their insignificant narrative in the storyline, one often hears the phrase “White Girl in Danger” again, associated with various scenes.
During the intermission for this three-hour musical, Jackson is relentless in projecting scenes of more racial issues that Blacks face, and the audience again hears the words “White Girl in Danger” repeated.
I understand that Jackson wanted to make a statement, that Black Lives Matter and that Black performers getting their time to shine in the industry matters as well, but he is trying to bring this message home through relentless bombardment. At first, I was sympathetic to the message he was trying to share, but after a while I felt overwhelmed and uninspired.
While the production definitely went on too long and had too many repetitive messages, the cast gave it their all. I thoroughly enjoyed the amazing singing voice and spectacular performance of Tarra Conner Jones as Nell, Keesha’s mother, and LaToya Edwards was entertaining as Keesha. The threesome of Kayla Davion, Jennifer Fouche, and Morgan Siohban Green were delightful as Florence, Abilene, and Caroline—the Black characters from the slavery scenes. James Jackson Jr. (who starred in “A Strange Loop”) is absolutely enjoyable as Clarence the High School Janitor. Eric William Morris plays three boyfriend roles in the soap opera and gave each their own distinctive delivery. Other cast members include Molly Hager, Alyse Alan Louis, and Lauren Marcus, who play Megan, Maegan, and Meagan. Liz Lark Brown and Vincent Jamal Hooper are also in the cast.
The musical has direction by Lileana Blain-Cruz, but again, the storyline is all over the place. Jackson truly needs to revisit this piece, cut it down, and not badger his audience to get his point across.
For more info and tickets, visit www.2st.com.