INTERVIEW: JONO GASPARRO ON ‘THE SOUND OF (BLACK) MUSIC’

Audiences in Princeton, New Jersey are in for quite a treat tomorrow evening.

Playing for one night only (November 17) at the McCarter Theatre Center, The Sound of (Black) Music is sure to be an unforgettable night of music. The show reimagines the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein songs through an Afrofuturistic lens to celebrate the uplifting spirit of Black roots music and shine a new light on one of the most beloved American musicals of all time.

I spoke with producer Jono Gasparro about how the show came together, the enduring legacy of The Sound of Music, what audiences can expect, and more.

AKN: What inspired the creation of this show?

JG: It all began via creative “how-do-we-change-the-world-with-Black-music” conversations between Michael Mwenso, myself and Caleb Hammons who was the Artistic Producer of the Fisher Center at Bard College in 2020.  Those conversations evolved into a revolutionary two-week artistic residency in the summer of 2021 with our organization, Electric Root, and the Fisher Center called “Black Roots Summer” where we brought 30 artists up the Hudson River (NY) to create three new shows. One of which was the The Sound of (Black) Music. We had asked the brilliant Mathis Picard to work on the music arrangements, but we needed the genius of theatremakers Kamilah Long and Shariffa Ali to put it all together, so they fortunately accepted our invitation and joined us at “Black Roots Summer” to direct this concept into a show.

When did you first see/hear The Sound of Music and what has it meant to you personally and creatively?

I remember watching it as a child whether it was on TV or my mom rented it from the library, and the songs were embedded into my upbringing throughout school. The realization that The Sound of Music was so universally acknowledged by communities across the country really enticed us to pursue reimagining it.

How do you go about infusing such well-known music with new sounds and musical directions while simultaneously staying true to the source material?

Well, if you look at the messages that are rooted in the original music and lyrics, there is so much uplift, resilience and joy – which is the foundation of the music that we serve.  Add that to the genius of Mathis Picard as the arranger – and the community of artists who all contributed musically, it fits together so well.

The show aims to reclaim the legacy of Black music and highlight its central role in shaping American culture. How do you think it accomplishes this?

I think depending on the audience member, this show can represent many things! That’s why we love the arts, it can affect all.   But this is truly a special show because it highlights the gifts that Black music gives us all within the context of a beloved American musical.

What makes the McCarter Theatre Center the perfect venue for this event?

Nestled within the campus of one of the oldest and most respected learning institutions in the United States, the fact that the McCarter Theatre Center decided to present it, and the community comes out to support it, proves it can play anywhere!

What do you hope audiences take away from the production?

I hope (I’d like to guarantee!) that everyone who enters the theater on Friday November 17th brings the stress and worries of the week with them, but returns back to the lobby (after the show) full of joy, love and is uplifted with a profound renewal of spirit.   We suggest you hang for a few minutes after – meet the performers and hug (and make friends with) another concertgoer.

Do you each have a favorite musical number in the show? What is it and why? 

This one is hard, because the show continues to keep me on the edge of my seat for each song, and there are no favorites!  But I will say I love the impact and depth of “Edelweiss” (as long as I have a tissue in my pocket).

Why do you think it has taken so long for a production like this one to be mounted?

I believe that since 2020, when the world changed, we have collectively been able to view systems and other perspectives from a new, and mostly wider lens – which has opened the door for many new artistic approaches.

What are the future plans of this show? Will there be a tour or any other performances that audiences can look forward to?

The Sound of (Black) Music is currently on an 18-city national tour and will be on another national tour in 2024-2025. But we envision a further adaptation of the full musical and an accompanying album in the future!

Thank you so much, Jono! Is there anything you’d like to add that we didn’t discuss?

If you are on the fence about coming to this production, we urge you to take a chance and give yourself an evening of unfiltered JOY (you deserve it)! It’s completely multi-generational friendly, so no worries if you can’t find a babysitter, bring the kids (and your senior-citizen neighbor) with you. We can’t wait to meet you.


CLICK HERE to purchase tickets for The Sound of (Black) Music, playing November 17 at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ.

About ALEX KELLEHER-NAGORSKI 171 Articles
Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. Alex lives in Western Massachusetts and can be found on Twitter at @AlexKNagorski.