The story of Bubbly's discovery of herself and the world that she is thrown into as a young, bubbly black girl in the LA 1960s.
Kirsten Child's new musical includes some hopeful numbers exploring the soul of the 1960s community, however fundamentally Child's coming of age musical simply fails to strike a chord with audiences, leaving a feeling of certain underwhelmingness. Some songs provide setting, notably Welcome to my LA and Wonderland and notably the school gym class song has some impact at the Belgrade.
Unfortunately the band isn't loud enough for the impact that the musical should have and there are times where the protagonists are drowned out by ensemble vocals. Child's score peaks in the later of act two as Bubbly sheds her burdening past in Listen! - a turning point narratively for her character.
Rosa Maggiora's costumes are strikingly 60s with perfect detailing of hair and some bold make up really setting the characterisation of the actors. However Maggiora's set feels somewhat distant from its costumes' context. The set lacks in colour and lacks the vibrancy of the 1960s. It is Tim Reid’s projection design with screens built into the set that provides real setting. There is a certain Brechtian inspiration in the imagery which assists in the sheer scale of places that Kristen Child’s book dictates. This works well in the storytelling, but it's Child’s book that leaves confusion. A misuse of exclamations of swear words feel contrasting to the young nature of the characters, particularly the end of act one.
Karis Jack leads act one with vibrancy as Bubbly bringing some youth and excitement to the stage. As the turning point in the musical changes from act one to two, Sophia Mackay takes the face of Older Bubbly with ease and strength as she moves from LA to NYC. The presence of younger Bubbly throughout the second half is also nice, evoking a sense of progression from Bubbly's restrictive past as she 'sheds her chameleon skin' and moralises that she wants to be who she was born to be, not what society wants her to be. Trevor A. Toussaint as Bubbly's Dad scores vocally and is strong throughout as the other characters he multi roles, similarly Bubbly's mum (Sharon Wattis) impresses and her ability is heightened in the duet between her and Bubbly.
There is nice characterisation from the small ensemble as they multi role to play the many characters in this musical, but at times their presence is lost by the vastness of the stage. Direction is simplistic allowing for full scope of the imagination of the audience. Similarly choreography is not complex and simply reminds you that you are watching a musical, it does not affect the story. Act Two seemed to have a stronger design and tighter story.
Bubbly Black Girl is something different, and provides a new style of musical theatre placing another historical event at its heart, but does leave you with a certain confusion. Catch it at the Belgrade this week.
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