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Poster from West Coast PremierThe Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin

Music & lyrics by Kirsten Childs

Ann G. Wilder Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, New York.
Opened 26th May, 2000. Closed 16th July, 2000 (season)

Synopsis:

What's a black girl from sunny Southern California to do? White people are blowing up black girls in Birmingham churches. Black people are shouting "Black is beautiful" while straightening their hair and coveting light skin. Viveca Stanton's answer: Slap on a bubbly smile and be as white as you can be! In a humorous and pointed coming-of-age story spanning the sixties through the nineties, Viveca blithely sails through the confusing worlds of racism, sexism and Broadway showbiz until she's forced to face the devastating effect self-denial has had on her life.

Story

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA. September 1963.

Bright, bubbly Viveca Stanton jaunts home from grade school with a bounce in her step, a twinkle in her eye and big dreams of being the greatest dancing star in the world. When her school chum, Gregory Robinson, tells her of the Birmingham bombing of four little black girls in church, a terrified Viveca tries to calm herself by playing with her favourite toy - a talking white doll. Daddy comes home from work and convinces Viveca that her bubbly smile can conquer both her fears and the world. But Viveca soon discovers that a smile won't lighten her dark skin enough for her to gain the coveted role of Sleeping Beauty in her dance class.

The late '60s. Determined not to let disappointment get her down, Viveca focuses on excelling in her schoolwork so that she will do well in junior high school - an exciting new world of integration where, for the first time, she makes friends with children of all races. Her ability to fit in with her new pals makes her black friends angry, and she is called the dreaded "O" word - Oreo. Even her beloved white Chitty Chatty doll turns on her, telling her she's f**ked up. Chitty Chatty's betrayal is all the more devastating when she reveals her own sordid secret - she's really a black doll passing for white!

The '70s. Viveca is now in high school - a nice black girl with straightened hair at the height of the rebellious protest era. She sees psychedelic, hippie Cosmic Rainbow chanting anti-war slogans with his friends as they frolic on a neatly manicured lawn. The irate owner of the lawn drenches the rabble-rousers with his garden hose, catching Viveca in the cross spray and causing her freshly pressed hair to "go back". Cosmic is smitten with Viveca's impromptu 'fro. Viveca is smitten with Cosmic. Viveca's mother looks at Viveca's new 'fro and beau with separate but equal horror. Mommy warns Viveca that no good will come of inter-racial dating.

Viveca stubbornly continues to dance to her different drummer, grooving with Cosmic to the 1 and 3 beats. When Cosmic informs her that he has no intention of taking her to the "plastic" ritual known as the high school prom, Viveca enlists the aid of her valley-girl-turned-militant best friend Emily (now known as Sister Kiss My Black X) to help her find a more prom-friendly black boyfriend. Emily takes Viveca to a party in the black community where Viveca sees her old childhood buddy, Gregory Robinson. He's grown up to be hot and, even better, he's hot for Viveca. But their budding relationship is ruined when the police harass Gregory and frighten Viveca in a case of mistaken identity.

More than ever, Viveca is determined to escape the shackles of her blackness. She suddenly remembers Chitty Chatty's final advice to her - go to "the place where f**ked up people go to make their dreams come true." Her bright, bubbly smile in place, Viveca makes a beeline to - where else? New York City!

The '80s. In New York Viveca follows up on her childhood dream to become a dancing star. Though her day job is a drag, she lives for her dance classes, where she meets Keith, who nips her crush on him in the bud by telling her that he, like all the good ones, is gay. Keith encourages Viveca to try for a Broadway chorus job. Completely oblivious to the fact that she's auditioning for one of the world's greatest choreographers], Viveca invests her audition monologue with all the sunny Southern California verve she can muster. When Director Bob asks her not to "go white" on him, Viveca is at first nonplussed but, with typical bubbly ingenuity, channels Foghorn Leghorn to give herself some "black-thenticity". Duly impressed, Director Bob gives her the job.

The '90s. The goal of becoming "the world's greatest dancing star," is within Viveca's grasp, and life becomes even more wonderful when she falls in love with sexy, seductive Lucas. But when Lucas tells her his grandmother made him promise not to be a "one-woman" man, Viveca daydreams of choking the old busybody in a case of cold-blooded granny-cide. Stunned by the depth of her repressed and displaced anger, Viveca takes stock of herself and realises that her bubbly exterior is not cutting it any more.

At another Director Bob improv audition, she confronts the truth of her life through a passionate dance of self-revelation. Director Bob loves Viveca's dance, but asks that she make it a "little less dark." In tune with herself at last, Viveca tells him that her days of being "a little less dark" are over. She challenges him to think outside the box and to consider her - darkness and all - for the lead of his new show. But, as progressive as Director Bob is, it's still the early '90s, and Viveca gets the standard sassy, black, sidekick part. Which is a happy ending after all, because — be real — how many people can mouth off to a director and still get the job?

Viveca saves her money and opens up a dance school in Harlem. Gregory shows up at the school; he's tracked Viveca down while in New York for a business meeting. As the two friends reconnect, a group of Viveca's dance students cajole her into teaching them The Skate, one of her favourite childhood dances. Pulling Gregory into the group, Viveca teaches, sharing the benefit of her experience, both in dance and in life.

Casting

5 men, 6 women (doubling, flexible casting).

  • Viveca
  • Miss Pain
  • Harriet Tubman
  • Secretary
  • Talullah
  • Granny
  • Emily
  • Nilda
  • Sandra
  • Larry
  • Keith
  • Gregory
  • Chitty Chatty Pal 1
  • Secretary
  • Ballet Teacher
  • Sophia
  • Jazz Teacher
  • Lucas
  • Prince
  • Cosmic
  • Policeman
  • Director Bob
  • Chitty Chatty Pal 2
  • Secretary
  • Modern Teacher
  • Scarlett
  • Daddy
  • Policeman
  • Mommy
  • Yolanda
  • Delilah

Musical Numbers

  1. Welcome To My L.A.
  2. Sweet Chitty Chatty
  3. Smile, Smile
  4. Dance Class
  5. The Stake
  6. Sticks & Stones
  7. Pass The Flame
  8. War Is Not Good
  9. Brave New World
  10. Give It Up
  11. Belle Of The Ball
  12. Beautiful Bright Blue Sky
  13. Legacy
  14. Who's That Bubbly Black Girl
  15. Secretarial Pool
  16. Pretty Listen
  17. Director Bob
  18. Come With Me
  19. Granny's Advice
  20. Listen! Listen Listen
  21. There Was A Girl

Instrumentation:

Piano/Conductor, Keyboard, Bass, Drums/Percussion, Flute.

Libretto on Sale ISBN: 0-8222-1879-8