By: Patrick Christiano
Musical satire, with exciting Bill T. Jones choreography and an eclectic score, lampoons race inequalities with style. The outstanding ensemble, headed by the charismatic Brandon Victor Dixon, also features Tamika Lawrence, Ephraim Sykes and the incomparable Lillias White.
February 24, 2022: Scott Elliott’s provocative production of the new musical, Black No More, is inspired by George S. Schuyler’s vicious 1931 satire of the same name. The novel was ahead of its time and Elliott’s staging for The New Group engagingly lampoons the novel’s themes, by skewing race inequalities with an eclectic score and exciting choreography by Tony Winner Bill T. Jones. The outstanding ensemble, headed by the charismatic Brandon Victor Dixon, also features Tamika Lawrence, Ephraim Sykes and the incomparable Tony Winner Lillias White.
The eclectic score by Tariq Trotter, Anthony Tidd, James Poyser, and Daryl Waters effortlessly combines rap, hip-hop, gospel, soul, jazz, rock and even spoken word to reveal the characters fears and motivations. Walters is credited with the musical supervision, which creates many moments for some sensational singing from the ensemble of twenty-six, accompanied by a superb band of seven. The sharp lyrics by two-time Grammy winner, Tariq Trotter, and the book by John Ridley, Oscar winner for 12 Years A Slave, effectively satires the source material’s themes without adhering strictly to the storyline.
Set during the Harlem Renaissance, the 1931 novel was ahead of its time with its narratives of Black people and whites. The tale takes off when Dr. Junius Crookman (Tariq Trotter) comes to Harlem with his new scientific invention, which he promises will turn Black people white and solve the problem of their existence, the color of their skin. The story follows Max Disher, a very funny Brandon Victor Dixon, the first Harlem resident to try Crookman’s invention and turn white.
As a white man, he travels to Georgia in pursuit of the girl of his dreams, a white woman who had rejected him. He believes being white will cure all the issues in his life and he will win the girl. Dixon’s comic timing is a delight as he transitions from a street player into the leader of a white supremist racist group. But he is still a Black man, only in white skin and finding it challenging to reconcile the two.
Tamika Lawrence is Buni, a passionate friend who travels to Georgia to save Max from his plight with the Southern Klan. Ephraim Sykes, who was originally cast as Michael Jackson in MJ, has a strong presence as Agamemnon, a friend from Harlem, who is at odds with Max’s life choices. Lillias White is hypnotic as the evening’s moral center, a beauty salon owner, who realizes her hair straightening techniques have only added to black self-hatred and their low self-esteem.
The choreography by Bill T. Jones grippingly reveals the evening’s conflicts, and the characters through dance that often builds with a frenzy but does not have the conventional Broadway resolve. Conflicts are not settled and the themes, unfortunately, echo issues we are still dealing with today.
Black No More, while a bit long and overly dramatic as the story reaches for its final fade out, is nevertheless, an engaging and thought-provoking evening of theater. I hope we have not seen the last of this entertaining musical lampoon of race relations in American
Black No More
The New Group
Pershing Square Signature Theatre
480 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036
Opened February 14th, Closing February 27, 2022
Photography: Monique Carboni