“Black No More”, a musical featuring a book by “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley and music and lyrics by Tariq Trotter of the Roots, aka Black Thought, will finally be in the spotlight.
The musical, originally scheduled for October 2020, has been delayed by the pandemic. The production, of the New Group, will now start this winter.
“Black No More”, based on the 1931 novel of the same name by George S. Schuyler, will play for a limited engagement, from January 11 to February 27, 2022, at the Pershing Square Signature Center. The opening night is scheduled for February 8.
“Music transcends genres,” Trotter said in a telephone interview. “But most of it sounds like black music. I fancy this piece, maybe we could break it down and use it as an education on the origins and history of black music.
“I didn’t feel like I was confined; I didn’t feel like I had to stick to the music of the day, ”he continued. “I felt like we were able to tell the story and make it into a period piece in many ways – not just writing jazz music.”
Schuyler’s Satirical Story, a piece of Harlem Renaissance canon, follows the development of Black-No-More, a scientific procedure for whitening black skin, created by a certain Dr. Junius Crookman. (Trotter, in his film debut, will also play Crookman in the series.)
The protagonist, Max Disher (Brandon Victor Dixon), decides to undergo the procedure after being rejected by a white woman for being black. In the meantime, Black-No-More is gaining popularity across the country. The more black people make the transition, the more obvious the economic importance of racial segregation becomes.
“I thought it was mind blowing,” Trotter said of Schuyler’s book. “I couldn’t believe that something of this caliber of sci-fi and wit and just black humor and something with so many layers was written back then.”
Besides Trotter and Dixon (“Hamilton”), the cast also includes Jennifer Damiano (“Next to Normal”), Tamika Lawrence (“Rent”), Theo Stockman (“American Psycho”), Tracy Shayne (“Chicago”) and Walter Bobbie (“Chicago”). Rehearsals begin in November. The additional cast will be announced at a later date.
The show will come from a Tony-winning team: it will be directed by the founding artistic director of The New Group, Scott Elliott; choreographed by Bill T. Jones; and have musical supervision, orchestrations and vocal arrangements by Daryl Waters.
“There is a very serious look that we have to take on the history and the history of this nation and how it has been told and will be told, to move forward,” said Trotter. “I hope this work and this kind of work will compel people to continue this review.