The world-premiere production of Jaja’s African Hair Braiding is set to open at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on October 3. The play, which marks the Main Stem debut of writer Jocelyn Bioh, is the first production of Manhattan Theatre Club’s 2023-2024 Broadway season.
In this week’s episode of The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal, company members describe the unique world audiences will glimpse when they attend the new dramedy.
Jaja’s African Hair Braiding centers around a group of West African immigrant hair braiders and their customers in a Harlem salon. “This play, it takes place over one full day,” actor Rachel Christopher explained. “A lot can happen in a braiding salon in one day.” Indeed, in Jaja’s, love blooms, dreams unfurl and secrets are uncovered that force the community to grapple with what it means to be outsiders in the place they call home.
Tony Award-winning performer and producer LaChanze joined the show’s producing team in July. After hearing the title and reading the script, LaChanze recalled, “I immediately thought, ‘I need to be a part of promoting this show. I need to be a part of helping to bring this vibrant story, this vibrant community to life. I just wanted to be a part of cultivating the audience that would come in.”
The full company hopes that the title of the play will attract audiences who work and frequent salon’s like Jaja’s — so they can see themselves as part of theater — as well as folks who have never encountered a braiding salon — so they can learn about this corner of society. “These women exist,” said actor Zenzi Williams. “They are giving, loving women who are a part of this culture. If you see a Black woman with their hair braided, that woman who did her braids [what she did] it’s ancestry. It is a part of our lineage.”
Williams continued, “I just hope that people begin to realize just how important [these women] are.”
“I really hope that people also really meditate on the dignity of otherness,” actor Somi Kakoma, who will play Jaja, added. “The fact that somebody can come into a braid shop and have their hair done, leave feeling fabulous… Think about all the ways that people help us look our best and how we kind of take it for granted. [It’s] that quiet work, that quiet dignity.”
“I hope that it just asks people to be more measured in the ways in which they extend grace and humanity to other people,” Kakoma said.
“These are the people that make the city what it is,” said actor Dominique Thorne. “These are the people that keep us running.”
This week’s episode of The Broadway Show also features an interview with Jason Alexander, who recently marked his Broadway directorial debut with The Cottage. Charlie Cooper walks and talks with Back to the Future star Liana Hunt. Paul Wontorek sits down with A Beautiful Noise star Robyn Hurder. Beth Stevens speaks with Shucked songwriting team Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark. The episode also highlights a Black Theatre Coalition/Broadway Across America Fellowship opportunity.