Desirée Rodriguez, Zonya Love Johnson (top),
Lucretta Nicole, and Chasten Harmon
in This One Girl's Story
(© Gustavo Munroy)
Desirée Rodriguez, Zonya Love Johnson (top),
Lucretta Nicole, and Chasten Harmon
in This One Girl's Story
(© Gustavo Munroy)
The brutal, anti-gay hate crime perpetrated against Sakia Gunn in 2003 serves as the inspiration for the promising new musical This One Girl's Story, making its world premiere as part of GAYFEST NYC, at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex. However, book writer Bil Wright, composer and lyricist Dionne McClain-Freeney, and director Devanand Janki have been careful not to let the tragic events of their tale outweigh their celebration of the individual who is at the center of it.

The bulk of the musical -- which fictionalizes elements of Gunn's story and the names of those involved -- shows the joy and camaraderie between four teenage lesbians of color from Newark, New Jersey: Cee Cee (Lacretta Nicole), her on-again-off-again lover Dessa (Zonya Love Johnson), Cee Cee's cousin Patrice (Chasten Harmon), and their friend Lourdes (Desiree Rodriguez). The foursome travel into Greenwich Village for a night out dancing that could also serve as a possible reconciliation between Cee Cee and Dessa.

Foregrounding the love story allows the audience to care for these characters, and Nicole and Johnson not only have a strong chemistry to make their relationship believable, their voices blend beautifully in a number of songs. Neither are shown to be perfect, although Cee Cee more often comes across as unreasonable. We don't get to see as many flaws in Dessa's character, unless you count what seems to be Cee Cee's ungrounded accusations.

The fateful moment of violence that ends the girls' evening is foreshadowed early on, mostly through a framing sequence that revolves around Patrice, and on whether or not she will testify against the man accused of the crime. The problem here is that it's not really clear why Patrice has reservations. She does say that she doesn't want to think about that night anymore, but that doesn't come across as a strong enough reason. Moreover, the opening number has Cee Cee singing about the importance of telling the story, and by the end of the song, Patrice is singing along! Musically speaking, this signals a shift in Patrice's overall outlook, and yet once the song is over, she's back to being unwilling to testify again.

McClain-Freeney's score is, overall, quite strong, and demonstrates the influences of musical genres such as jazz, blues, gospel, and pop. A disco-like paean to Greenwich Village is quite a treat, and a sultry number sung by a woman at the club named Promise (Tanesha Gary) is another highlight. In the lyrics to a tune sung by Mickey (Charles E. Wallace), who propositions the girls at a bus stop, the refrain "Nobody turns me down" takes on more and more sinister undertones as the song progresses. One slight misstep is a Latin-flavored solo sung by Lourdes that doesn't contribute anything substantial, and disrupts the momentum of the story.

The entire cast is solid, although a couple of the actresses don't look young enough to convincingly portray teenagers. Of the performers, Cee Cee is the clear standout. And even with its flaws, the musical has a lot of both power and heart.