‘Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin’ soars at Creative Cauldron

The show is packed with messages steeped in history and personal strivings, and the music and dance sequences are outrageously good.

Sometimes a show hits the theater scene seemingly from out of nowhere and soars. The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin is one of those shows.

What makes the show special are the historical and cultural references as the main character, Viveca, traipses through life determined to keep up with her friends, enjoy life, and pursue her dreams. So what that she’s a little Black girl growing up in a racially-tinged society (early 1960s L.A.) with a Bluest Eye fixation on blond tresses and a handsome white prince! She’s vivacious (like her name, Viveca), sees the world as full of possibility, and finds a way to keep her stride no matter what.

While Langston Hughes’ query “What happens to a dream deferred?” ends dried up like a raisin in the sun, playwright/composer Kirsten Childs approaches the question from the standpoint of a sparklingly hopeful Black girl who strives to live her best life.

Cristen Young (Viveca) and Ensemble in ‘The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin.’ Photo by William T. Gallagher Photography.

Young Viveca Stanton plays with her dolls (sneakily preferring the blond white doll over her brown one). On the surface, she’s unaware of the horrors of racism until like many of us of a certain age, her family gets glimpses on television and in newspapers. In her case, reality comes crashing in on her life when she hears about the bombing of the Birmingham church with youngsters inside. It’s too much for her and her buddies to process, and they resort to juvenile, childish, and cringeworthy remarks, oblivious to the heinous act and racial turmoil rocking the country. Viveca plays with her friends and skips merrily along like she’s brushed off the menacing implications. But in one glimpse of the play’s fascinating layering, Viveca has a nightmare involving Harriet Tubman, rifle in hand, nudging her to “Walk on the Water” while hooded Klansmen lurk behind the panel backdrop.

As a “bubbly Black girl” in a racially stratified environment, Viveca has a perpetually sweet effervescent look on life, and Cristen Young plays her to the hilt. She smiles through her life passages and keeps a positive attitude when she’s overlooked or not selected because she’s not light or white enough. Playwright Childs maintains the tension of Viveca’s survival tactics and the reality that nips at her heels and occasionally bites.

The music and dance sequences are outrageously good and the entire design team — director, choreographer, and costumer — assure a laser focus on Viveca’s intent to be a dancer while she goes through challenging segments. For example, the ensemble starts in little-girl tutus and by the end are adults in ballet class — same women, same bodies, but their movements and costumes relay they are years apart. Choreographer Maurice Johnson is also a master in relaying the range of dance styles and nuances. For example, when Viveca is reprimanded for not maintaining the rigid posture and adding “attitude” in ballet, she’s called out for needing more swagger and attitude just moments later in modern-dance class. Costumes and set design, always stunning work by Margie Jervis, reflect the various eras and time periods beautifully

Just when I thought there couldn’t be any more ultimate moments, another song-and-dance number would pop up and blow me away. Highlights and showstoppers include Viveca getting to her “promised land” — New York! — then struggling in the secretarial pool.

In one hilarious scene, a bevy of golden-haired Chitty-Chatty dolls strut out robotically with stiff stuck limbs and give Viveca a verbal smackdown. Decades before Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and from a bubbly Black girl’s perspective, the image is on the mark.

The staple recollections of 1960s coming of age are there, with Mom wielding the pressing comb in the air with aplomb like Sweeney Todd lifts his blade. The towel over her shoulder and her daughter holding the jar of grease were touches that could only come from deep-set memories.

The psychedelic trip must be seen to be believed, with the characters decked out yet again this time in groovy free-flowing costumes, bouncing to a Harikrishna beat in the small space. The simple set is transfigured with incredible projections and Lynn Joslin’s lighting of colorful loopy swirls that harken back to tie-dye and love beads dripping with peace and love, sprinkled with a splash of acid.

As Viveca, Young’s ultimate performance number when she truly comes into her own defying everyone’s projections of how she should look and move matched Cassie’s “Music and the Mirror” in A Chorus Line. She is stunning.

TOP: Cristen Young (Viveca) and Trenton McKenzie Beavers (Gregory); ABOVE: Cristen Young (Viveca) and Ensemble, in ‘The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin.’ Photos by William T. Gallagher Photography.

The ensemble performers — Trenton McKenzie Beavers, Alicia Zheng, Kayla Earl, Bianca Lipford, Sally Imbriano, Edima Essien, Carl L. Williams, Sylvern Groomes, and Oscar Salvador — are all at the top of their game in portraying the multiple characterizations shifting on a dime, transitioning from one to another with ease. They are a treat to watch.

The band under Amy Conley’s capable direction breezes through styles effortlessly from gospel, to jazz to rhythm and blues, even Broadway pizzazz and soulful funk. The flute adds whimsical flourishes for a nice touch

That the work is semi-autobiographical is even more intriguing, along with finding out that book/lyricist/composer Childs taught herself to orchestrate music. The entire experience was invigorating and inspiring.

THE Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin was written in the ’90s and opened Off-Broadway in 1999. The topics, issues, and themes are alarmingly pertinent all these years later. Only an astute and clever team can bring out the cultural artistry of a show packed with messages steeped in history and personal strivings. Creative Cauldron does justice to the multiple facets of The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin and delivers a thought-provoking, strutting, crowd-pleasing winner. After all these years, this is the first major professional production in the metro area. My advice? Bring friends and grab this show.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, no intermission.

The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin plays through June 9, 2024 (Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm), at Creative Cauldron – 410 South Maple Avenue, Retail 116, Falls Church, VA. For tickets (Tier One, $50; Tier Two, $40; Students, $25), call (703) 436-9948 or purchase them online.

The program for The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin can be viewed here.

This show contains adult language, and sensitive content dealing with racism.
There is a brief use of a prop fire arm.

COVID Safety: Creative Cauldron is a mask-optional environment.​ Creative Cauldron’s COVID-19 Theater Protocol is available here.

The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin
Book, Music & Lyrics by Kirsten Childs
Directed by Angelisa Gillyard
Music Direction by Amy Conley
Choreographed by Maurice Johnson

Cristen Young, Trenton McKenzie Beavers, Alicia Zheng, Kayla Earl, Bianca Lipford, Sally Imbriano, Edima Essien, Carl L. Williams, Sylvern Groomes, Oscar Salvador

Keys 1: Amy Conley, Paige Rammelkamp
Keys 2: Ashlei Peoples/Elisa Rosman/Aaron Evans
Bass: Danny Santiago
Flute: Mila Weiss/Hailey Nowacek
Drums: Jo Huling/Emilie Taylor/Gilbert Rupp

Costume/Prop/Set Design: Margie Jervis
Lighting Design: Lynn Joslin
Stage Manager: Nicolas J. Goodman


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