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WBTT teases musical 'Ruby' after extended delay

The theatrical run of "Ruby" has been postponed twice due to circumstances beyond its control, but the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is working overtime to give it a new life.

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  • | 1:58 p.m. February 7, 2022
The cast of "Ruby" includes Casey Murphy, Aleah Vassell and Brian L. Boyd. (Photo courtesy of Sorcha Augustine)
The cast of "Ruby" includes Casey Murphy, Aleah Vassell and Brian L. Boyd. (Photo courtesy of Sorcha Augustine)
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It’s the show that keeps on patiently waiting for its theatrical run.

"Ruby," the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s original adaptation of a Florida true crime story, was first waylaid by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

And then this year, its run was also postponed due to a flare-up of the omicron variant.

Nate Jacobs, the founder of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, has tenaciously decided to keep "Ruby" alive, and he staged an initial showing of the musical on Friday night.

That showing — conducted with the cast out of costume — was designed as a chance to give audiences a taste of "Ruby" but also as a reference for the future production.

“We’re filming it because we want to document all the work we’ve done,” says Jacobs. “When we do come back, we’ll have a big start of all the work we’ve done with the production.

“There’s a lot of new music that’s been developed, and we’re still sharpening some things. We went back into workshop mode once we realized that we’d have more time.”

The musical — co-written by Jacobs with his brother, Michael — retells the story of Ruby McCollum, a Black woman convicted of killing a state senator-elect in 1952.

McCollum testified at trial that she had borne a child of the victim, but she was restricted from alleging that she had been raped. McCollum was originally sentenced to death by an all-white jury, but her case was later appealed and overturned by the Florida Supreme Court.

McCollum was later found incompetent to stand trial and confined in a mental hospital.

For Jacobs, the story mixed so many elements that contemporary audiences might recognize.

It’s a criminal justice story and a story about race, but it’s also one about women’s rights.

“This talks a lot about people, about people and life,” says Jacobs. “The attitude of southern Florida back in 1952 that has not really changed too much today. There has been some progress, but we all know there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in regards to equality.”

The musical is a true labor of love for Jacobs, who has methodically and resolutely built WBTT over two decades.

Jacobs says the first time "Ruby" was postponed it was a sign of where the world was regarding COVID-19.

But the second time, he says, was frustrating due to the timing and circumstances.

“We’ve done a lot of work getting ready for the debut of our new show,” says Jacobs. “We were into rehearsals and production in the middle of omicron, pretty much. We had too many challenges with people not being able to be in rehearsal. Once a person gets a positive result, that means they’re out five or six days. That was beginning to happen quite a bit. Not that there was a slew of numbers, but just key people in the production not being there.”

Jacobs, a restless creator, was forced to postpone "Ruby" so he could preserve the rest of the troupe’s schedule. “Broadway in Black,” a musical review that tells the story of Black artists on Broadway, is about to begin its rehearsal schedule.

The filmed version of "Ruby," says Jacobs, will allow cast members to keep sharp on its songs and dialogue.

The auteur isn’t sure when he will bring "Ruby" back for a theatrical run.

He said he’d like to try to squeeze it in this summer, and if that’s not available, it will go back on the slate for next season. But one thing is certain: Jacobs will keep working on "Ruby" until it runs.

“We’re putting it to bed, and we’re going to think about when we can really bring it back and present it respectfully and give it the attention it deserves,” he says. “We’re going to work on it until we put it before the public.

"We’re going to make sure we do all the work necessary. We have a good product now, but we will continue to refine and shape and sharpen. I’m so glad we’ve gotten it up on its feet. It was only a script on paper."


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