When Georgetown University theater professor Natsu Onoda Power told her students she was writing a go-go musical, most of them envisioned a show about ’60s dancers in short skirts and tall boots. It was proof that her show, about D.C.’s homegrown version of funk music, was as necessary as she’d thought.
“The objective of the show is, in part, educating the audience about how to appreciate go-go, how to respond to it and how to listen to it,” Onoda Power says.
The show, “Wind Me Up, Maria!: A Go-Go Musical,” premieres at the university Thursday. Directed by Onoda Power and featuring music by Shorty Corleone (aka Charles Garris) of the band Rare Essence, it tells the story of Maria, a Georgetown student, D.C. local and aspiring go-go singer. As her senior year approaches, Maria (played by actual Georgetown student Myiah Smith) gets a summer job tutoring a gaggle of international kids, all of whom have been adopted by an affluent Georgetown doyenne.
Over the course of their summer together, Maria teaches the kids about the history of go-go, back to its roots in the 1970s. It’s a conceit that allows the show’s audience to learn along with them, Onoda Power says.
At one point, Maria uses the music to help her pupils prepare for the SAT, “improvising” a song that was actually co-written by Onoda Power and Corleone.
“This is probably the first go-go song about the SAT,” says Corleone, who hopes it has a life outside of the musical. “It’s real cool, and I think that’s going to be a segue back to the communities of kids who haven’t even heard what the SAT is.”
Maria’s lessons have unintended consequences when one of her pupils, Joseph, sneaks out to see a go-go show. He tries to use a stolen ID to get in, and the resulting scuffle eventually lands him in police custody.
In addition to serving the plot, Joseph’s brush with the law allows the play to touch on go-go music’s association with crime, Onoda Power says.
“We wanted to emphasize that just because violence sometimes happens at go-go [shows], it’s not because of the music,” she says. “Correlation doesn’t mean causation.”
Perhaps because of that misconception, there’s never been a go-go show on Georgetown’s campus, at least as far as the administration knows. That dry spell will end Thursday, as the play’s music will be provided by a mix of professional go-go performers and brass players from Georgetown’s pep band. In addition to the show’s original songs, they’ll be playing go-go classics like Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers’ 1979 hit “Bustin’ Loose.” They’ll even perform a go-go version of Georgetown’s alma mater song.
Getting the straight-ahead, 4/4 march to sound funky took some doing, Corleone says.
“We had to move a couple of notes to make it fit the swing, because go-go’s all about the swing and timing,” he says. “We’ve mixed up some music gumbo.”
Davis Performing Arts Center, 37th and O streets NW; Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Nov. 10–12, 8 p.m.; $15-$18.