In 1997, when my college roommate and I left the premiere of Love Jones, we headed to the nearest drugstore to find a lipstick to match Nina Mosley’s. My best friend got Nina’s haircut. I teased her mercilessly, but I was secretly envious. I bought the soundtrack, the VHS and, later, the DVD.
Find any “About Me” that I’ve completed in the last 20 years, and find Love Jones under “Favorite Movie.” Five years ago, while in Chicago, I even made a pilgrimage to the Wild Hare, the site of Nina and Darius’ first date. It doesn’t get more Love Jones than me.
So imagine my excitement at the news last summer that a theater adaptation, Love Jones the Musical, was in the works. I immediately tagged my bestie on Facebook: “I’m not sure how they’re going to make a musical out of this, but you know we’re goin’, right?” It turns out the makers of Love Jones the Musical weren’t sure, either.
My bestie couldn’t make it to the show because of prior obligations, but my former roommate and I made plans to attend together. Though it had been 20 years since we first met Nina and Darius, we could still quote their lines. We reminisced excitedly during the car ride to the theater, trying to imagine how some of the scenes we loved would be re-created in the musical.
Once inside, however, we were somewhat bummed to find a sign announcing that none of the show’s three biggest stars—Chrisette Michele, Musiq Soulchild and Marsha Ambrosius—would be performing. Instead, we’d be seeing Michel’le, Ginuwine and Sisqo.
Disappointed but undaunted, we found our seats and settled in eagerly as the lights dimmed. As we whispered excitedly, we were interrupted by MC Lyte making a rather peculiar announcement. When she finished, I turned to my friend and repeated what I thought I’d heard: “Did she just say that none of the music, poetry nor dialogue from the movie would be in this production?”
Responding to the growing sound of collective confusion from the audience, Lyte followed up with an amused, “What? Is that gonna be a problem?”
It was not a problem for me because it was too ridiculous to be true. Clearly, she was teasing us. How could they even make Love Jones the Musical without any of the key elements that make Love Jones—Love Jones?
Well, it turns out it’s not that hard.
Rather than use the poetry from the scene at the Sanctuary where audiences first fall in love with Darius, they just named the character “Darius” and the club “The Sanctuary.” Whether the club actually resembles the Sanctuary in any way matters little, and whether Darius’ poetry—one of the character’s defining strengths—is now vulgar and trite matters neither.
The whole musical hinged upon this naming strategy. Find two actresses and name them Josie and Nina. Who cares if they speak, dress and act more like cast members of The Real Housewives? Transform Troy, Savon’s wife, into Nina’s loud-talking, brash, confidant-friend, while Savon becomes the kind of guy who responds with lewd, dramatic gestures whenever Nina bends over. I was beginning to wonder if the musical’s writers had actually seen the film.
Beyond the problems with character development and plot, the utter lack of effort to produce an actual musical was also upsetting. In a musical, original songs typically stand in for dialogue as characters break into songs with lyrics befitting a particular scene. In Love Jones the Musical, characters sometimes abruptly began singing a ’90s hit with unclear connections to the scene.
For example, in one convoluted scene after Darius and Nina have made love, Nina’s ex-fiance, Marvin, shows up while Darius is out. When Darius returns, Nina expresses her desire to see things through with Marvin, causing Darius to storm out and Nina to become confused. Nina inexplicably breaks into a rendition of Yolanda Adams’ gospel hit “Open My Heart.”
At other times, characters paused (or danced along in the shadows) while a singer—here is where Sisqo and Michel’le each made an appearance—took the stage, adjusted the microphone stand and sang a ’90s hit. (Or, in the case of the singer from Silk, humped the stage.)
The production went for cheap laughs based on stereotypical, one-dimensional characters. Egregious use of the n-word, flamboyant gay men and a disheveled obese man with a relaxed head of hair that he referred to ad nauseam as his “Katt Williams” were disturbingly met with laughter from many. But not from the true Love Jones fans. We sat bewildered.
When I got home, I posted my concerns on the musical’s Facebook page. I was summarily blocked. A few other negative reviews or questions about the changed lineup appeared. Those comments were quickly removed. Love Jones the Musical lures fans in with the Love Jones name, but it wishes to offer nothing beyond that.
I’ve still got a love jones, but it’s not for the musical.
Summer Hamilton reads everything she can get her hands on and questions everything she reads. She spends her days molding young minds to do the same. Her nights and weekends belong to Netflix. When she gets her priorities straight, she’ll finish her dissertation. In the meantime, find her on Twitter or her vlog.