The show opened on March 21 after previews from Feb. 17. It is based on the novel by Sherley Anne Williams, and is directed and choreographed by Graciela Daniele.
Also in the cast are Michael Hayden, as a journalist who tries to tell Dessa's story; Norm Lewis as a runaway slave who forms bonds with both LaChanze and York's characters; Rebecca Eichenberger, Tina Fabrique, David Hess, Kecia Lewis, William Parry, Soara-Joye Ross, James Stovall and Eric Jordan Young.
The musical has sets by Loy Arcenas, costumes by Toni Leslie-James, lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, sound by Scott Lehrer, musical direction by David Holcenberg and orchestrations by William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke.
The show begins with the ensemble singing "We are descended from a long line of women." Two of those women are Dessa Rose and Ruth, the abandoned white wife of a Southern plantation owner and gambler. Following an attack on her slave-owning master, Dessa is sold off along with some other slaves. She escapes, however, inciting a rebellion that leaves several white people dead. She's caught, and interviewed by a writer named Adam Nehemiah, who hopes to publish a sensational book on the "devil woman," but escapes once more. On the run, the company find the home of Ruth, who, in her husband's long absence, has lost control of who lives on her property. Slowly, Ruth becomes sympathetic to the plight of Dessa and her compatriots and agrees to help them—even though Dessa herself shows an undisguised dislike for her hostess.
The work has been in development since 2001. LaChanze has always been attached to it. In early workshops, Donna Murphy played the Ruth role. In the past, Lincoln Center Theater has produced such Ahrens and Flaherty works as My Favorite Year and A Man of No Importance.
A cast album of Dessa Rose will be released by Jay Records.