Earlier this year, Buju Banton of Jamaica won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album. It apparently didn't bother anyone that his lyrics are virulently anti-gay. The hip-hop group Odd Future has acquired a considerable following and lots of admiration from the press. No one seems to mind that their music is hate-driven.
Which is what makes the Broadway-bound White Noise, playing in Chicago through June 5, so terribly timely. Billed as "a cautionary musical," the show, says director and choreographer Sergio Trujillo, asks the question, "Are we really listening?"
White Noise is inspired by the Gaede twins, the adorable, blue-eyed blonde girls known as the white supremacist duo Prussian Blue. Beginning when they were 11, in 2003, and continuing for the next five or six years, they sang songs that conveyed their racist ideology.
"They're a jumping-off point," says Trujillo. "Our show is about 'What if?' What if you had these beautiful and angelic-looking girls who write music for the white separatist movement, and someone begins to write coded lyrics for them? And what if the American public started buying their recordings? That's the essence of the show. And sometimes when you're working on a show, the world conspires and puts these things out there, like Buju Banton and Odd Future." The show has a book by Matte O'Brien and a score by Robert Morris, Steven Morris and Joe Shane, and one of the producers is Whoopi Goldberg. It has undergone considerable change since it was initially conceived by Ryan J. Davis and presented at the 2006 New York Musical Theatre Festival, with music by Joe Drymala and additional songs by seven other writers. A full-scale production, with the current writing team in place, was mounted in New Orleans in July 2009, where it sold out.
Trujillo, choreographer of the currently-running Memphis, Jersey Boys and The Addams Family, was not involved in the show's previous incarnations. And he had not expected such a risky project to be his first show as a director.
"There's another musical that I thought was going to happen before this one," he says. "But the cards just fell this way. I cannot tell you that I wasn't afraid of the subject matter. But I believe in this show. It's very intense and challenging. And it's making me fearless."
Trujillo says that "living in today's world" was all the research he needed to do for the show. "This stuff, this hatred, is all around us: FOX, CNN, the Grammys," he says. "And again, the question is, 'Is America listening and paying attention? Or is it just noise?' Our culture, the media, everything is so manipulated, and they're getting more and more out of control. The public is easily manipulated. The smart ones do the research and pay attention. But the majority of the country believe whatever they're being told they should believe."
Trujillo adds, "If we treat the material with truth, integrity and responsibility, then we've done our jobs. I hope the show inspires discussion. I hope we can get people to listen and start paying attention, and realize that as individuals and Americans, we all have a responsibility to deal with the hatred and try to educate people. I hope people don't go home and put away their Playbills and ignore the world around them."