Playwright Ramsey found his material in a forgotten singer's trunk
J. Wynn Rousuck
You might say that the musical Bricktop was born in a trunk. The trunk had belonged to an African-American singer named Ada "Bricktop" Smith and was purchased a few years ago by the library at Atlanta's Emory University, which is where native Baltimore playwright Calvin A. Ramsey saw it.
Ramsey had never heard of the singer, but when he started going through her trunk, he says, "I saw all these telegrams from Cole Porter, letters from Arlene Francis and Dorothy Kilgallen. And I said, 'Who is this woman who would have heard from all of these people?'"
answer has turned into a musical, which opened a five-week run at MetroStage in
title character, Ramsey discovered in his research, was called "Bricktop" because "she was a light-skinned black
woman with red hair and freckles." His research also led him to the oldest
adopted son of Josephine Baker (who came to
The music in the show ranges "from Eubie Blake to Cole Porter to [Johnny] Mercer and up to the music in 1984," the year Bricktop, Hunter and Mercer all died.
Although Bricktop is Ramsey's first musical, it's not the first play for this 56-year-old former insurance agent. Concentrating on what he calls "unknown pages in African-American history," Ramsey's other scripts include The Green Book, about a guidebook listing places where black travelers were welcome in the South during the Jim Crow era, and Shermantown, Baseball, Apple Pie, and the Klan, a play whose depiction of Ku Klux Klan meetings provoked controversy in 2005 when readings were canceled by a Stone Mountain, Ga., theater.
most recent project is a children's book, The Last Mule of Gee's
Bricktop runs through Feb. 25 at MetroStage, 1201