Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


book, music and lyrics by Kirsten Childs
directed by Jacqui Parker
choreographed by David Connolly
music direction by José Delgado

Mommy; Yolanda; Sandra … Mala Bhattacharya
Larry; Jazz Teacher; Dance Captain … Montez Cardwell
Gregory; Modern Dance Teacher … Jaime Cepero III
Chitty Chatty Pal 1; Secretary; Ballet Teacher; Sophia … Jackie Comisar
Emily; Nilda; Tallulah … Anich D’Jae
Chitty Chatty Pal 2; Leslie; Secretary; Scarlett … Aimee Doherty
Keith; Lucas … Lawrence-Matthew Jack
Prince; Cosmic; Policeman; Director Bob … John King
Miss Pain; Harriet Tubman; Secretary; Delilah; Granny … Trecia Reavis
Daddy; Policeman … Brian Richard Robinson
Stephanie Umoh … Viveca


Conductor; Keyboard 1 … José Delgado
Keyboard 2 … David McGrory
Flute … Molly Eckman; Jeri Sykes
Bass … Marc Fortier
Percussion … Lee Caron

In a way, there is now too much music in the world --- my generation began the addiction and our children have inherited it; people now use music to shut themselves off from others and even themselves rather than reading or conversing with one another as if the spoken voice, the printed word, nature’s sounds and pure silence must be avoided, further unraveling society’s fabric. This addiction, in turn, has seeped into the theatre where shortened attention spans demand visuals backed with non-stop music, and their producers and creators are only too happy to oblige. Today’s tunesmiths either have forgotten or have never learned that a showstopping number is akin to an orgasm and its libretto is the foreplay, building in character and emotion until the only release can be in song and/or dance; the sung-through musicals of the Sondheim school boil down to variations on opera’s recitatives --- thus, there is much foreplay passing as orgasms but that it is not the same thing. Music in the theatre can be a great shortcut to the heart of things; when overused, it reduces and trivializes, as demonstrated by Kristen Child’s THE BUBBLY BLACK GIRL SHEDS HER CHAMELEON SKIN at the SpeakEasy Stage. Ms. Childs sketches her life from the 1960s to the 1990s with her representative Viveca (aka “Bubbly”) progressing from a dancer-to-be with a yearning to be white to a mature woman who sheds her false “skin” and stands proud, black and free. I emphasize “sketch” for never have I seen so much singing and dancing that evaporate so quickly; aside from a few racial references, Ms. Childs keeps things on a sweet, shiny surface --- all right, a “bubbly” one --- and never deepens Viveca’s character or the swirling world around her. Cute reigns, here, and Cute always has a short season.

Though THE BUBBLY BLACK GIRL SHEDS HER CHAMELEON SKIN may work better in cabarets and dinner theatres than under a proscenium arch, Jacqui Parker keeps things bopping in the SpeakEasy production. I’ve heard golden things said about Stephanie Umoh in New Rep’s RAGTIME and, despite some unflattering wigs, Ms. Umoh’s Viveca evokes the “white” beauty and bearing of the young Diahann Carroll but BUBBLY BLACK GIRL allows her to sing, dance and emote just so much and no more; thus Ms. Umoh is but a Pop Presence until her final transformation where the evening should really start rather than conclude. (This black-white exchange has always been one-sided: if blacks emulate whites, they are viewed as traitors to their race; if whites emulate blacks, they are cool.) Ms. Umoh may not catch fire but two other members of the cast do: Anich D’Jae is an amusing embodiment of every sassy black girl with street smarts and Trecia Reavis punches holes through all that sunniness as a gospel-grandmother who sheds her own skin when you least expect it. Aimee Doherty, in several bit parts, could evolve into a frisky, sexy showgirl of the old school; Ms. Doherty’s singing and dancing seem more taught than intuitive, right now, but she has begun to relax and grows prettier each time I see her --- for musical theatre, that’s not a bad start.

"The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin" (17 November - 9 December)
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 933-8600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide