The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin is a musical that was originally produced in 2000 but drew a lot of attention in 2017 when it was performed at Encores! Off-Center in New York, which “was founded in 2013 with the mission of presenting Off-Broadway musicals that pushed creative boundaries when they were first produced.” The plot is autobiographical to the life of musician, lyricist, and writer Kirsten Childs. The music is described as funky, and the lyrics had good rhythm to them as I read, like poetry.
The show is about Viveca Stanton, a black girl growing up in California. It opens with her playing with a white doll, admitting that her mother bought her a black doll, but she shoves it under her bed. Right away, we see how she has learned from society that white is better, though her parents encourage her otherwise. Viveca finds a newspaper with the story about four black girls blown up in a church in Alabama, setting the play in the United States, 1960s. Little Viveca dreams of being a dancer, but questions of race and identity keep tripping her up.
The musical pushes forward quickly — 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Each has a marker of the time, such as hippies. Though Viveca starts as a child, this isn’t a kids’ musical. The same adult actress plays Viveca the whole show. Along the way, Viveca tries to be a dancer, but she’s told who and what she is — as a black female — her whole life. At one point, she’s told to read some lines from a script. She sounds “too white” and they want her to “sound black,” so she conjures up something that’s akin to Foghorn Leghorn (because he’s southern and she thinks of black folks as southern, completely missing the point that black folks — like her — don’t sound one way) and gets the part.
Here is the end of The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, when Viveca is surrounded by all those voices that have shouted at her the last 30 years, telling her her what to do, how to take life, and still smile regardless:
VOICE 1. Smile, Vivvie! Smile, smile, smile, smile!
VOICE 2. We don’t get angry, Vivica, not even in our thoughts–
VOICE 3. Just be yourself! (Smile!)
VOICE 4. And if he says something stupid, you go tsk! (but smile!)
VOICE 5. And act your age and not your color! (And smile!)
VOICE 6. But don’t go white on me, you Oreo! (Smile!)
VOICE 7. Just be yourself! (Smile!)
VOICE 8. Doll yourself up, look beautiful! (And smile!)
VOICE 9. Be one of the good ones! (And smile!)
VOICE 10. You have the right to remain silent! (And smile!)
VOICE 11. Just be yourself! (Smile!)
Although I like the lyrics, I’m not much of a musical critic, so I was left feeling puzzled. I believe this show is fast-paced, the decades smearing into one another, so I had a hard time picturing it. I’m worried that it’s so quick that audiences may miss what’s happening. I bought this musical because I liked the synopsis and we’re looking to put on four musicals every year at my theater.