“Black No More,” a musical with a book by the “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley and music and lyrics by the Roots’ Tariq Trotter, a.k.a. Black Thought, will finally get its turn in the spotlight.
The musical, originally scheduled to premiere in October 2020, was delayed by the pandemic. The production, from the New Group, will now begin this winter.
“Black No More,” based on George S. Schuyler’s 1931 novel of the same name, will play a limited engagement, Jan. 11 through Feb. 27, 2022, at the Pershing Square Signature Center. Opening night is scheduled for Feb. 8.
“The music transcends genre,” Trotter said in a phone interview. “But most of it feels like Black music. I feel like this play, we might be able to break it down and use it as an education in 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 music of the day,” he continued. “I felt like we were able to tell the story, and make it in very many ways a period piece — without only writing jazz music.”
Schuyler’s satirical story, a piece of the Harlem Renaissance canon, follows the development of Black-No-More, a scientific procedure for turning Black skin white, created by one Dr. Junius Crookman. (Trotter, in a theatrical debut, will also play Crookman in the show.)
The protagonist, Max Disher (Brandon Victor Dixon), decides to undergo the procedure after being spurned by a white woman for being Black. In the meantime, Black-No-More gains popularity nationwide. 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 science fiction and wit and just dark humor and something with so many layers was written at the time that it was.”
Apart from 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. Additional casting will be announced at a later date.
The show will be coming from a Tony-winning team: It will be directed by the New Group’s founding artistic director, Scott Elliott; choreographed by Bill T. Jones; and have music supervision, orchestrations and vocal arrangements by Daryl Waters.
“There’s a very serious look that we need to take at history and at the story of this nation and the ways in which it has been told and will be told, moving forward,” Trotter said. “It’s my hope that this work and work like this are going to compel people to continue that examination.”