BUBBLY BLACK GIRL lights up stage at Karma

By: Apr. 28, 2023

It's been called "...[a] sharp and tasty new the show ingeniously turns professional perkiness, the lifeblood of the American musical, into a funny, poignant comment on ethnic self-denial."

It's been described as "The play opens with an explosion of music...accessible and enjoyable to people of all races and genders...the bubbly mixture of humor and pathos makes for an entertaining-but not feather weight-show."

Audiences have been apprised that it "speaks with wisdom and resonance not only to African-American audiences that share her experience and reference, but to any sensitive soul who ever has been on the outside, struggling to fit in."

What am I talking about? THE BUBBLY BLACK GIRL SHEDS HER CAMELEON SKIN, Kristen Childs' musical now on stage at Karamu, Cleveland's home to the nation's longest performing Black theatre.

Karamu, where Russell and Rowena Jellife, two Oberlin graduates, in 1915 founded a settlement house on the corner of East 38th Street and Central Avenue, that eventually became a magnet for many of the best African-American artists.

In the 1920s the Jellifes sponsored the Dumas Dramatic Club, which eventually evolved into a well-known and respected Karamu theatre under the guidance of Reuben and Dorothy Silver. During the tenure of the Silvers "works by African American authors such as Langston Hughes and LeRoi Jones, as well as classics from the American theater were staged." Colored-blind casting reigned and there was a general atmosphere of interracial theatre.

In the 1960s and 70s "Urban unrest and the growing Black Arts Movement forced a reconsideration of Karamu's goals as they related to interracial theater." The Silvers were replaced, the dramatic performance space floundered with confused lack of purpose until Tony Sias, the present President and CEO, took over. Now, under his guidance important and appropriate plays like BUBBLY BLACK GIRL are being staged.

As Sias describes the present script, "It is not often that we see a coming-of-age story about a young Black girl on stage, especially one who is an artist, trying to self-actualize in America."

He goes on, "While we use music and humor as our mantra, our [Karamu's] tradition is to have you walk away with a better understanding of how the theatre is not only a place of entertainment, but a place where stories of fiction can help us relate to and learn how to cope with and tackle real life experiences."

BUBBLY BLACK GIRL asks a series of questions centering on "What's a black girl [Viveca] 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. The 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."

It must be remembered when seeing and evaluating productions of shows done at Karamu and other community non-Equity theatres, that their casts are usually populated by enthusiastic but often undertrained and non-professionally experienced performers. They are seldom, if ever, "better than Broadway," in spite of the views of friends and family.

BUBBLY BLACK GIRL is a case in point. While expertly directed by Nina Dominque and creatively choreographed Kenya Woods, the cast is often stretched beyond their acting, singing and dancing abilities.

Highlights of this production include Kennedi Hobbs, who is pleasing as Viveca (aka Bubbly), Dayshawnda Ash, who brings down the house with her rendition of "Granny's Advice," and Jaren Hodgson who is properly obnoxious as Director Bob (Bob Fosse, in obvious disguise).

Edward Ridley, Jr. and his musicians do an incredible job of interpreting the score. Joe Burke's projection and Cameron Caley Michalak's scenic designs help enhance the production.

Capsule judgment: No, it's not a production better than Broadway, but THE BUBBLY BLACK GIRL SHEDS HER CHAMELEON SKIN gets a very creditable production and continues the role of Karamu in presenting Black-themed shows to its appreciative and enthusiastic audiences.

BUBBLY BLACK GIRL runs through May 14, 2023 in the Jelliffe Theatre, 2355 East 89th Street. There is free parking in a guarded lot adjacent to the theatre. For tickets go to


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Roy Berko, a life-long Clevelander, holds degrees, through the doctorate from Kent State, University of Michigan and The Pennsylvania State University. Roy was an actor for many years, appearing in mo... (read more about this author)


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