Soho Rep will present the world premiere of Jillian Walker's The Whitney Album, a "ritual performance" honoring Whitney Houston and many other Black women who were "beloved and consumed for their art." The Off-Broadway run will begin May 24 with previews through its June 6 opening night. The run is set to conclude July 2.
Through perceptions of Whitney Houston, Walker examines perceptions of performance and the idea that it is "unnatural" and the ways in which Houston was both deified and dehumanized. “I began this work in part thinking through my own relationship to Whitney Houston, but it has expanded from the ‘I’ into the ‘we,’" said Walker in a statement. "I entered this piece through the exit wounds: I felt wounded by perceptions of her and even the name ‘The Voice,’ as somebody who’s also a performer and Black woman. But the writing for me has evolved beyond this, beyond the shadow aspect of these perceptions. Her voice is something that is a spiritual experience for so many of us. So what does it mean to hold both of those things, and how do you speak to both of those things in one work? And how does the ‘I’ become the collective, and how is Whitney Houston herself an example of many?”
Walker will star in the cast alongside Portia (To Kill a Mockingbird), Stephanie Weeks (The Coast Starlight), and Ben Jalosa Williams (Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge).
Directing will be Jenny Koons (Regretfully, So the Birds Are), helming a creative team featuring set designer Peiyi Wong (Weightless), costume designer Jojo Siu (North), lighting designer Oona Curley (Dark Disabled Stories), sound designer Ben Jalosa Williams (The Terrifying), wig designer Earon Nealey (Fat Ham), dramaturg and archivist abigail jean-baptiste ('Bov Water), and Process Priestess Nia Witherspoon (Messiah).
Walker, who recently stepped into Sangoma priesthood, is collaborating with Process Priestess Witherspoon to "[reconnect] the theatrical process and form it to its ancient ritual, medicinal, healing, and communal purposes."