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Black romantic comedies find new stage

May 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Arts/Literature, Entertainment, News

Whatever She Wants, starring Vivica A. Fox, is the latest work in a growing genre

( Not long ago, Vivica A. Fox and Morris Chestnut were among the top stars of a modestly successful movie subgenre — the all-black romantic comedy — that seems to have lost some of its luster.

Some of its best directors and stars have moved on to other types of films. Chestnut hasn’t been seen on screen in two years, and that was as a guest on the TV show Bones.

The black romantic comedy isn’t dead, however. It’s simply changed venues. Fox currently is touring in a play, Whatever She Wants, which opens in Houston May 1 at the Verizon Wireless Theater.

Co-starring Boris Kodjoe (Madea’s Family Reunion, Soul Food) and Richard Roundtree (Shaft), the play is scheduled to run through May 6.

Chestnut also is touring in his stage debut. His play, Love in the Nick of Tyme, launched its 11-city run in Houston in January.

They usually escape the notice of mainstream media and audiences, but the plays come through town like clockwork, every 30-45 days, except in the summer, sometimes selling out large venues. They’ve made millionaires of producers like Tyler Perry and Houston’s Je’Caryous Johnson, who wrote and directed Whatever She Wants.

Everything has its turn,” says Fox of movie romantic comedies like Two Can Play That Game, one of the best of the genre, which she starred in alongside Chestnut in 2001.

“But I hope they’re not going anywhere,” she adds, noting that she plans to produce a sequel. She also says there have been discussions about adapting Whatever She Wants to the screen.

In the play, she portrays a single woman who, tired of unfulfilling relationships, opens a private club where women can meet men who’ve been rigorously screened. The criteria, according to the ads that have been blanketing black radio stations: “No baby daddies, no bad credit, no pot bellies, and no living with your mama.”

Touring romantic comedies evolved out of the “gospel dramas” and stage musicals that became hugely popular with black audiences in the 1980s. Despite their broad sitcom-style humor and romantic stories, they impart moral messages and appeal to devout church-going audiences.

The touring plays provide a new source of work for television and movie actors and recording stars, some of whom — like Fox — squeeze in the plays between their more traditional projects. She will be seen in the coming season of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing a Hurricane Katrina survivor who moves into the home of the series’ curmudgeonly star, Larry David.

The plays also have become a safe haven for waning stars for whom TV and movie roles are few and far between.

Fox says she hasn’t acted on stage in 20 years. “It’s harder than I expected it to be, to be honest,” she says. Fox spoke by phone from Macon, Ga., on her lunch break from rehearsals on the opening night of the play’s run.

She took the role, she says, because Johnson tailored it especially for her.

Not long ago, a movie actor might have looked down her nose at these types of plays, the same way they once eschewed television as beneath them. No longer, Fox says.

Things have changed,” she says. “Everyone’s doing everything these days — movies, television, stage plays, music, producing their own clothing or fragrance lines. That’s the only way to have longevity in your career, in my opinion.”


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