“PROMISE” is a new family musical based upon the Coretta Scott King Award-winning book and Reading Rainbow favorite, “Uncle Jed’s Barbershop” (option secured), written by Margaree King Mitchell and illustrated by James Ransome.
Margaree King Mitchell, Author of the underlying book, “Uncle Jed’s Barbershop”:
I absolutely loved it! Seeing the characters I created come to life is simply amazing. The songs draw you into the story from the very beginning. I laughed! I cried! If you loved the book, you must see the show! You will love the show even if you haven’t read the book!
SYNOPSIS OF “PROMISE”
In 1962, forty-something Jean Carter leaves Detroit and her secure but dead-end job at a bank to return to her childhood home in Arkansas: Her beloved septuagenarian uncle Jed has fallen ill, and he stubbornly refuses to give up on his dream of building his own barbershop, even though it has been continually sidetracked for more than 30 years. Jed’s wife, Twyla, pleads with Jean to talk sense into her uncle, and to convince him to settle into his life and age. Jean’s parents agree with this plan, but are just as pleased to have their estranged daughter back home again, after many years away up North. Jed, wise to the family situation, convinces Jean to stay in Arkansas for longer than she originally intended, so that she can judge for herself if he is too old to work towards his shop. Jed’s ultimate intention, however, is for Jean to help him open the shop, and to keep the promise they made to one another long ago to do so.
We return to Holly Grove, Arkansas, 1928, where Jed, in his 40s, is the only Black barber in the entire county. Jed takes his young niece and “business partner” (called “Sarah Jean,” then) along with him as he travels to customers’ porches, living rooms, shops, and sharecropped fields. Sarah Jean is swept up in Jed’s plans to build his own barbershop, and looks forward to the day that “they” will have a true place of business. Jed’s ambition and efforts are tireless, and he continues to save more and more. Obstacles, however, set him back, including his paying for Sarah Jean’s life-saving surgery at the segregated (“White”) hospital, losing his savings again during the Great Depression, the challenge of being a Black man in the South trying to save money and set up a business, and the universal toll of growing older. In spite of everything, Jed never gives up, and young Sarah Jean loves and admires him for it.
By 1962, Jed and Jean have pushed each other and their relationship to the breaking point, as each one stubbornly insists they know what is best for the other. Just as Jean decides to return to Detroit for good, they discover a new and unexpected path forward, and a way to work together towards opening the barbershop. In building new possibilities for themselves, and consequently for others in their community, they bring new life to their old dreams. At show’s end, evening has fallen, and Jed returns home for dinner with Twyla, while Jean— content to be called Sarah Jean, once again– prepares the shop for the first day of business, tomorrow.
“PROMISE” is a dramatic celebration of family, community, love, work, hope, and the power of dreams that never grow old.
2021 Rensing Center, writing residency
2020 Reading, New York, sponsored by The Farm
2019 Ragdale Writers Retreat, Finalist
2019 Rhinebeck Writers Retreat, Finalist
2018 Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, writing residency
Synopsis Song Samples