Cotton: The Fabulous Fabric of Our Lives
(first appeared in When Sirens Call (US) March 2013)
Here it is. The big idea. A musical but not just any musical. THE musical. A musical that will allow me to do the two things I love best: offend and entertain. And make money. The three things I love best.
The city is Charleston, South Carolina. The year is 1769. The scene opens as slaves are being unloaded from an ocean-going galley and led to a small platform where they are to be auctioned off. Even the most callous heart is moved by the sight of such suffering and human misery. Into this darkness strolls Rex Lewis, a wealthy plantation owner. For him to personally attend one of the auctions means that he’s been tipped off that one or more of the slaves has the rare quality that he is known to covet.
It’s Raining Men begins to play. Imagine if you will a dance number expressing all the pain of a long ocean voyage combined with the sheer exuberance of finally getting to stretch ones legs performed by one hundred fit black men wearing nothing but loin cloths. And of these one hundred slaves there is one in particular that stands out as being particularly flamboyant.
He is immediately purchased by Mr. Lewis.
It is rare that I can be insensitive on such a taboo subject and at the same time be guilty of reinforcing negative stereotypes regarding homosexuals. Nothing sells tickets on Broadway like a long and uppity picket line.
When the curtain rises again we are introduced to the star of the show, Kazoola, as he is being introduced to his new home. The carriage slowly winds its way down the long driveway leading to the Lewis plantation The Circle J. All around him slaves are laboring in the fields picking cotton, each sporting colorful halter tops, short shorts and scarves. Seeing the new arrival a slow song begins to grow and soon the spiritual “Hung Low” is drifting lazily across the hot summer day.
I will, of course, aim to be as historically accurate as I can without having to do any actual research so Rex Lewis will never be identified as “gay,” only as a “fashionable bachelor” with little interest in women. It is his devotion to his work and his slaves that provides the feel-good component of this story -that every musical needs to be loved and accepted by generations of theater-goers. Even the cruelty usually associated with slavery is non-existent and the only time the whip is pulled out is during moments of good-natured horseplay.
The actual songs will practically write themselves. There will be the obligatory one where the slaves use various farm implements as instruments and they sing about the hardships of keeping weight off. There will be the song about inventing spare ribs that will include a joyous twenty minutes of tap dancing and even a touching rendition of “Ebony and Ivory” between Master Lewis and Kazoola when they are alone for the first time.
A musical about a plantation of gay slaves. Nobody has done that before. Saved from a lifetime of being ostracized in Africa these men become slaves only to fashion. It’s almost a story of hope and redemption. Almost.
And the ending. Holy shit, what an ending. I got the idea from that U2 song where they take a snippet of the Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have A Dream” speech and add it into their song. Fuck that, I’m taking the whole damn thing except it will be rapped by Kazoola during the longest creampie fight ever to take place on Broadway. There will literally not be a dry seat in the entire house by the time the play is done. It has everything a successful musical needs.
Imagine the cast I can get if a shitty movie like Glory could round up Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Andre Braugher. Jamie Foxx might have a problem doing gay scenes but I’m sure Cuba Gooding Jr. will leap at the opportunity. Once I get one big name I’m sure the others will quickly follow suit. If Heath Ledger did Brokeback Mountain in the name of being an artist I’m sure Will Smith will gladly make love to Samuel L. Jackson eight times a week if a possible Tony nomination is up for grabs.
Hmmm … Tony. Maybe a better name than Rex.