Scott, Richard, and I saw *White Girl in Danger* at 2nd Stage on Sunday March 19, 2023. This is the second show written by Michael R. Jackson. The three of us had seen his first show, *A Strange Loop,* on Broadway. It won both the Tony for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was without a doubt the most original and shocking musical I've seen on Broadway or anywhere. That show looked at racism, homophobia, transphobia, body shaming, a whole range of topics not usually examined in Broadway musicals.
*White Girl in Danger,* like *A Strange Loop,* is completely written by Michael R. Jackson. He wrote the songs and the book. This is somewhat unusual - - there are usually two or three people (or more) doing those things. The 2nd Stage website describes *White Girl in Danger* as a "fever dream mashup of classic soap operas and red-hot melodrama." That's definitely an accurate description of the show but it doesn't scratch the surface of how challenging and disturbing it was.
The show is about a soap opera called *White Girl in Danger.* It took me a while to realize that the people we were seeing onstage weren't actors in a soap opera, they were CHARACTERS in a soap opera. The show is about a girl in the Blackground who is determined to assert herself and have her own plot line, rather than remain subservient to the white characters on the show.
Here's the title song from the show, performed at Joe's Pub five years ago:
You can hear how infectious and catchy the song is. Most of the songs were like that, they sounded like a thousand other songs you've heard but because of their content, they were totally original. I can't think of another show that rhymes "screamin'" with "semen."
My favorite moment in the show was a moment of high hilarity. The white teenage girls are telling their stories, which often end with, "My mom is gonna kill meh." A few examples (written by me, in the style of the show):
"If I don't figure out a way to cover up this large bruise on my arm, my mom is gonna kill meh."
"If I don't lose 15 pounds by Wednesday, my mom is gonna kill meh."
"If I don't ace this White Supremacy History final, my mom is gonna kill meh."
Always that pronunciation of the last word, "meh" rather than "me." Funny every time. Well, in the second act, one of the girls is being chased by her crazed, knife-wielding mother. The girl screams out, "MY MOM IS GONNA KILL MEH!"
But the show was not all fun and games! This show went further in its examination of racism because, unlike *A Strange Loop,* there were white actors onstage. Also cisgender female actors onstage - - the female characters in *A Strange Loop* were played by cisgender men or a transwoman in the cast. This gave a sharper, more pointed focus to the issues being presented. Best of all, there were a couple moments where the Black characters talked about the white audience, and looked into the mostly white audience in the theater. That was chilling.
You know that one of my favorite genres is the Glorious Mess. This show was messy but I had the feeling it was messy on purpose, it was no accident, it was essential to the show. The show had way too much content - - the words and the hot button topics were flying fast and furious. It was too much but not in an annoying way, at least not for me. I thought it was thrilling.
My one criticism is about the relentlessly shrill sound. The sound design was, in my opinion, too loud and bright. And Scott pointed out that this problem is magnified by the fact that the actors often seem to be talking and singing very loud. Again, maybe this was a deliberate choice but it seemed needlessly grating. The performances would have the same force and the show would have the same impact if they dialed it back to seven (rather than eleven).
The whole cast was extraordinary but I need to give a special shout out to Tarra Conner Jones as the mother of the central Black girl character. Her character is slyly named Nell and she's clearly been styled as a riff on Nell Carter. Conner Jones was a total force onstage, she was stupendous and full of raw power. Here's a sample, an audition video she did for a production of *Dreamgirls,* singing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." I can't imagine she didn't get the job!
The show is in previews - - we had the treat of seeing Jackson in a talkback after the performance and he said he thinks of the show as being in development. This is typical for a show in previews. He said that he had grown up watching soap operas with his great aunt and never realized how much those resolutely white-centered shows were forming his view of the world. He became a writer and moved to New York City with the intention of becoming a writer on a soap opera. He was a staff writer for a couple of soap operas and then took a right turn and started developing his own material, which led to *A Strange Loop.* And this show.
Scott said on our way out that he can't see this show playing on Broadway. I said that we might have said the same thing about *A Strange Loop,* if we had seen it off Broadway - - but it did play on Broadway and won the Tony for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama! I might go see this show again, if it does move to Broadway. I'd be curious to see how much of it had changed from the version we saw. And I'm curious to see if it has the same kind of steamroller impact on a second viewing.