What might have been just another sitcom creative stunt designed to shake up the energy at the start of a new season is now instead evolving into an ambitious new project that could even turn out to be the next Hamilton.
Following the critical success of “Juneteenth: The Musical,” the season-four opener of ABC’s Black-ish, the show’s creator, Kenya Barris, and one of its writers, Peter Saji, will team up with multiple Grammy-winning music producer Pharrell Williams on a stage musical inspired by Juneteenth, the African-American holiday widely recognized as the final day of slavery in the U.S.
In the TV episode, an 1865 version of the show’s African-American family the Johnsons sang and danced to celebrate the liberties stretching out before them on June 19, the day U.S. Army ships descended on Texas, forcing landowners to free the last of the Confederate state’s estimated 250,000 enslaved people, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
The subversively funny, sharply double-edged episode became an instant classic, cleverly linking 21st-century African-American middle-class reality to the country’s brutal past of exploitation and suffering. Since the episode aired last fall, the date is now commemorated on Apple’s iCalendar program, and a movement is gaining momentum to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
Barris and Saji will write the book for the new musical project, with Williams on board to compose the score and produce under his company i am OTHER, with partner Mimi Valdes. Saji also will serve as a producer.
Plot details have not been revealed, but the musical is expected to follow a similar template to the Black-ish episode, focusing on two African-American families — one in contemporary times and the other in the Civil War era.
“The acknowledgement and celebration of Juneteenth as an American and possibly international holiday is something that I would put in the life goals column for me,” Barris said Tuesday in a statement. “For Peter and me to be able to team up with Pharrell on such an important project like this is something that neither of us in a billion years would have thought possible. For us, this project isn’t about numbers; it’s about humanity. Slavery is America’s recessive gene and it’s time we all dealt with it, and what better way to have an audience swallow this dose of medicine than with amazing music and raw, honest, jaw-dropping comedy?”
“I dream about projects like this: Kenya and Peter are geniuses and Juneteenth will change culture and change history,” added Williams. “We couldn’t sign up fast enough.”
A timeline has not yet been set for the untitled stage project, and nor has any indication been given at this point whether Broadway is the goal destination.
Barris is repped by CAA, Artists First and Morris Yorn. Williams is with WME, Ron Lafitte of Patriot Management and Caron Veazy. Saji is repped by UTA and Hansen Jacobson.