Full Story Synopsis
(as of September 2018)
Act 1 - It’s 1901. Wealthy, elite Mary Talbert imagines a Buffalo where every race gets along in the CITY OF GOOD NEIGHBORS. With news of a World’s Fair coming to town, she wants the nation to see the truth of BRIGHT NEGRO WOMEN who show the best of what black folks can do. But the Fair Directors instead approve AMERICAN BILLIONAIRE Dundy’s pitch for an Old Plantation show with hundreds of happy slaves; and pseudo-French explorer Pene’s over-the-top DEEPEST, DARKEST AFRICA. Incensed, Mary and the black elite protest (WE MUST, WE ARE UNANIMOUS). She persuades the Directors to include W.E.B. DuBois’s Negro Exhibit of black progress. Elsewhere, DuBois convinces his partner Calloway to take the exhibit to Buffalo because of the RED RAY that first compelled them to make the display: the lynchings of black men. Du Bois writes Mary that the exhibit is en route to Buffalo. A Buffalo-bound train carries fairgoers who meet a loner, Czolgosz. He tells them about his LABOR’S WAR CRY: to see the rich stop getting richer off of the suffering of workers. The Fair opens its gates to millions for the world’s biggest show AT BUFFALO. Dundy’s Old Plantation is a hit (SHEW FLY), featuring husband-and-wife stars Tannie and Henrietta who flirt and parody the minstrel show in SHEW FLY REMIX. Unfazed by the darkey act, Mary makes her way to the Negro Exhibit. But Aunt Jemima, the crowds, and food hawkers of HUNGER ALLEY take the spotlight. Mary learns that Calloway has appointed her rival James Ross to be in charge of the Negro Exhibit and not her. Darkest Africa opens with clashing performances of Pene’s spectacle vs. John Tevi’s traditional African dances. John TEVI’S CALL OUT reveals that Pene stole the attraction from Tevi and Tevi wants to walk out. But Pene is holding a secret over Tevi that won’t let him quit. The Fair at night is a romantic backdrop for Tannie and Henrietta to share their $5 DREAM with each other: Tannie wants to make it big in showbusiness for Henrietta. Henrietta just wants Tannie. At the Negro Exhibit, Aunt Jemima confronts Mary (SISTER, WHAT YOU SELLIN’?), unsettling Mary’s respectability politics. At a local bar, Tevi has defied Pene’s rules and meets Czolgosz. They talk about the highs and lows of America (MY NAME IS NOT NO ONE - TBD). Czolgosz tells Tevi that he has a pistol in his pocket. With more BRIGHT NEGRO WOMEN (REPRISE) at the Fair, Mary feels that she’s back on track to show off Buffalo (BRIGHT NEGRO WOMEN - REPRISE). But a TUG OF WAR event between Darkest Africa and Old Planation gets out of hand and everyone witnesses Buffalo police threaten to lynch a black man on the Fairgrounds: Tannie.
Act 2 - Fair attractions urge the audience to DON’T BE ALARMED as barkers, showmen, and performers compete for our attention. President MCKINLEY ARRIVES AT THE FAIR. Everyone, including Mary, wants him to see their exhibit/attraction. Henrietta wants to quit show business because of the lynching threat. Tannie wants to keep performing after Dundy offers him a solo for the President. She persuades Tannie to promise that they will leave after he does his solo ($5 DREAM - REPRISE). A TIRED, SO TIRED Czolgosz stalks the President and decides to kill him. Pene reinforces his SAVAGE RULES in Darkest Africa. An African confronts Tevi about his complicity in Pene’s plan, likening Tevi to the Africans who helped in the slave trade (TEVI'S CALL OUT - REPRISE). Czolgosz, Mary, Tevi, and Tannie prepare to KILL/MEET THE PRESIDENT. Czolgosz shoots McKinley. A black man Jim Parker tackles Czolgosz. An outraged crowd calls for Czolgosz’s lynching (LYNCH HIM NOW/THE REAL PANAMERICANA) and badger Parker for details (JIM PARKER'S BUTTONS). Tannie backtracks on his promise to Henrietta after Dundy offers him a five-year contract. McKinley clings to life while Czolgosz languishes in prison awaiting trial (TIRED, SO TIRED - REPRISE). McKinley dies. Buffalo mourns (NEARER MY GOD TO THEE). Rumors arise that Parker did not save the President. Mary asks Parker to speak at her club to tell his story. He refuses. She humiliates him by publicly introducing him to speak at her club anyway. Ross tells Mary that not everyone has money and privilege to protect themselves like she does (THAT BRIGHT NEGRO WOMAN). A new somber tone hangs over the Fair and Buffalo after the President’s death as Dundy and performers try to keep the world's fair show going (BUT WE MUST JEST TOMORROW). Henrietta leaves a pleading Tannie (LILY OF LAGUNA). At Czolgosz’s trial, Mary and the black elite expect Parker to testify to settle once and for all that a black man initially saved a U.S. President (THE NEGRO WAS IN IT). But lawyers never call Parker to the stand and witnesses say they did not see a black man during the shooting. Czolgosz is sentenced to death. Mary faces the compounding facts; she does not know where she BELONGs. In Darkest Africa, Tevi tells Pene AGORO BESIE (PLAYTIME WILL END). He confesses to the Africans of his slave trading past, tells his new vision of performing African culture, and frees himself of Pene’s hold. Sitting in the electric chair, a remorseful Czolgosz implores the guards to GO EASY ON ME. Czolgosz dies. The Fair ends. Tannie and Henrietta reunite, and ask Mary for help staying in Buffalo. Years later, we see what happens to all characters who take stock of all that happened at Buffalo (HERE'S A PLACE). Tevi returns home and then back to the U.S. with a new troupe. DuBois comes to Buffalo. He stays at Mary’s home as he and other black Buffalonians launch the Niagara Movement, which becomes the NAACP.