Pulitzer Prize winner Michael R. Jackson's new musical, White Girl in Danger— playing at the Vineyard Theater in New York City—may have Blackground actors regulated to back burner stories, but in real-life, Latoya Edwards is front and center. As Danger’s Keesha Gibbs, she’s the Black background actress who is determined to take center stage in Allwhite, the musical’s soap opera-like setting where only Caucasian stars get juicy storylines—like being murdered by an Allwhite killer on the loose.
Edwards is having a blast bringing Jackson's latest leading role to life. "I had never read a story like this before, and there were endless possibilities as to how this story could go. But the core of it is centered on one Blackground girl’s dreams and her unwavering determination to achieve them," Edwards tells EBONY. "What drew me to Keesha is that by the end of the show she has played the ingenue, the heroine, the villain and the anti-hero. She plays it all and rarely do you get to see Black fictional characters embody as much as she does in one go."
Here, Edwards shares more about the new musical.
EBONY: How do you characterize Keesha: as a woman on a mission? A mischievous schemer? Or is she a combination of both?
Latoya Edwards: Keesha is definitely a woman on a mission. What’s moving about the way Michael has written Keesha is that she becomes an example of what happens when you begin to lose sight of your mission as a result of the power, notoriety and exposure you experience on the way. I think because Keesha has been starved of this dream of mattering for so long, she does unsavory things to keep her moment alive, which could be seen as scheming. But from the start, she always pursued her dream from a place of honest desire and truth.
What points do you think Michael R. Jackson is making about race in TV tropes such as soap operas, Lifetime teen movies and the repetitive serializing of "Black trauma?"
One point that Michael is speaking to is the generalization of Black characters, as well as the lack of care for them, within tv shows. It’s the fact that Black characters are barely considered and rarely given emotional depth and truth to play because their existence is usually in service to white characters. One beautiful moment of the show is when the Blackground characters are giving adjectives to another character at the end so that actress can rewrite the story as she chooses—she’s in the driver’s seat. You get to hear all the different things writers can give Black characters to play other than their trauma. Michael is speaking to the range that Black creatives and characters can explore if they are just given the chance to do so and that in itself is absolutely powerful.
What's your favorite scene or song in the production?
I have a few favorites from this show! I love “Run Away From Home” and “Allwhite Men” for the beautiful melodies. There are harmonies in both those songs that my fellow castmates Kayla Davion, Morgan Siobhan Green and Jennifer Fouché, who play characters in the Blackground, are doing more than justice. Currently, my favorite number is “Stealin’ My Thunder.” This song scared me the most because of the way Keesha has to quickly switch genres and vocally, it’s technically difficult and quite high!
What do you hope people take away from your performance and the show?
I hope people take away the strength it takes to play a role like Keesha. White Girl In Danger is a marathon for her and Keesha is carrying this show with grace and a determination that can not waver. I hope what people take away from the show is the complexities of storytelling for black people. That we are not a monolith. We can do more and have already done so. It’s on the people writing the stories to ask more of themselves as to what is possible for the characters they are creating.
Has your family seen White Girl In Danger? What do they think?
Most of my family hasn’t seen the show yet, but so far, from the ones who have come, they enjoyed the performances and loved the soap opera references. They were also incredibly proud of me since they know that I’ve been working on this show for the past six years.