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April 7, 2017
The Bubbly Black Girl sheds her chameleon skin, Belgrade Theatre, until April 15
A musical may seem an odd vehicle to chart the history of racism over three decades in the USA.
Even when it has a cheesy storyline of young black girl, nicknamed Bubbly, who dreams of becoming a star, and is willing to play to white man's stereotypes.
Inevitably, she finally kicks back and in true Broadway style declares "I am what I am," or words to that effect, gets a coveted stage role but ends up opening her own dance-school in Harlem.
Now we are in familiar musical territory. Or are we? Writer Kirsten Childs wouldn't be the first to use musical, an innately ridiculous genre, to highlight the absurdities of life.
Top of that list is the sheer stupid pointlessness of racial discrimination. So what could be more apt than wrapping it in a musical?
The format also allows her to sucker punch you with some unpalatable truths after being lulled by high octane singing 'n' dancing and booty shakin' (take a bow Bubbly's beau, Lucas).
The issue of 'internalised racism' for instance where the degree of darkness of skin can be a divisive factor in some black communities.
The story covers the period from the early 60s Klu Klux Klan atrocities to police brutality towards black people in the 1990s.
Effervescent pre-teen Viveca goes by the nickname Bubbly, a handle which is to define her approach to life, floating like a bubble unwilling to stand up to racism. Until she moves to New York seeking fame.
In the first half of the play, the role is taken by Karis Jack;in the second Sophia Mackay.
Karis has the tougher gig. Playing a vacuous LA kid with a high-pitched giggle who can belt out a song like a Motown veteran. A bit of a stretch, but she pulls it off and lays the ground for a seamless transition to her older self.
You can't get away from the serious messages underlying the froth. And they come with brutal and explicit force.
But there are also some fabulous song and dance routines - the gym scene, high school prom and the aforementioned booty-fest would light up any show -and had the audience shouting its appreciation with a standing ovation.
In the musical's finest tradition, a happy ending. Then the lights come on, in every sense. Have attitudes really changed much in the 17 years since Bubbly was written?
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