The play begins in the early 1960s in LA--just after three black girls died in a church bombing in the South. Viveca, whom all the neighborhood kids call Bubbly, is a smart, popular girl with "two parents in the home and not a welfare check in sight." She tells her blond hair, blue eye doll Chitty Chatty her dream of having her hair go straight after being kissed by a prince, but when Daddy comes in, pretends to be teaching her dark skinned dolly about Harriet Tubman. In junior high Viveca is labeled an Oreo (black on the outside, white on the inside) by her fellow African-American students. In high school Viveca first dates a white hippie (much to Mommy's consternation), and then tries to hang with the afro-sporting swingers.
Not really fitting in anywhere, Viveca decides to go "where f**ked-up people go to make their dreams come true": New York. The second half of the intermission-free play--punctuated by a jazzy solo in which LaChanze, the actress playing Viveca, really gets to strut her stuff--takes place in New York. Viveca starts out as a secretary, in a sassy musical number in which floor panels fold back to create desks within the stage (an inspired design solution from David Gallo) and the secretaries sing about needing "a Stoli, a screw, and a two-week vacation." After endless dance classes, an unwitting musical theater audition, and a stint as the "other woman", ever-bubbly Viveca eventually sheds her chameleon skin.
Spending the first half of the play in Viveca's childhood world, and centering the entire story around an irrepressibly bubbly character, runs the danger of oversimplifying racial issues and of being annoyingly cheery. But every time things seemed like they were going saccharine, Childs gets quirky, ironic--even satiric. Like when Viveca begins pouring out her heart Chitty Chatty, only to have the doll instruct Viveca to pull on her blond curls, which pop off to reveal an afro underneath. Chitty Chatty had been passing ("Oh no, Chitty Chatty!"). And then the doll begins to dish it out, telling Viveca that her smiling all the time is just plain "f**ked up". Later the image of a bent-over grandmother shelling peas, sharing words of wisdom with her grandson, is turned on its head when Granny transforms into a Tina Turner-type, complete with silver pumps, and advises him to always keep a woman on the side.