Among other themes, the show offers a mirror to those in the black community who yearn for whiteness. The protagonist, Max Disher (played by Dixon), decides to lighten his skin after meeting a white woman, Helen Givens (Jennifer Damiano), in the Savoy Ballroom at a party. That he’s willing to sacrifice his identity after a chance encounter with the woman is a long-standing criticism of some black men: No matter how supportive they are of black women, they still see white women dating like the society’s ultimate price.
The musical also delves into the internal baggage that comes with Blackness, the weight of external pressure applied by those who look like you but don’t know your situation. How to stay true to yourself without disappointing your peers? And what does it mean to be real Noir anyway?
“The lesson for me is that there is a cost,” Dixon said. “There is a cost to the choices we force ourselves to make in order to become happy and accepted members of society. It is time for us to re-examine these costs. Is this the construct in which we can truly rise, grow and evolve as a human population? »
“Black No More” begins amicably, with a flurry of black and white dancers gliding across the stage in unison, circling a barber chair used for the skin-altering experiment. Out comes Trotter, who plays Junius Crookman, the doctor performing the procedure. He portrays Harlem as a deceptive place where dreams don’t always come true. “You’ll find all the things…both high and low,” he says in his opening monologue. “Here where every black baby must to try to grow.”
The music of “Black No More” largely corresponds to this era, moving smoothly from jazz swing to big band to soul. Some verses have a rap edge – Trotter, after all, is the Roots’ lead singer – but his writing here explores a wide range of musical textures, evoking old Harlem while conveying the full spectrum of music. After Max goes white, the music becomes softer and more delicate, almost sounding like bluegrass or folk in a way. Near the end of the show, two white women sing along to what sounds like an R&B track, a genre typically associated with black women. “Black No More” is full of that kind of cross-pollination.
“I’ve always been very into allowing the universe to sort of write the songs, allowing the material to develop on its own,” Trotter said. “These songs represent the different elements of black music. What we’ve come up with is something like an education in the evolution of black music, which basically would be the evolution of American music.