Karl “Dice Raw” Jenkins Presents
HENRY BOX BROWN: A Hip Hop Musical
Premiering during Black History Month
What would you do for freedom?
Henry Box Brown: A Hip Hop Musical, produced and starring Karl “Dice Raw” Jenkins, opens on Thursday, February 1, the first night of Black History Month. This musical forces one to ask: “What would I do for freedom?”
Virginia slave Henry Brown, who stood taller than six feet, was willing to spend 27 hours folded into a 3’ x 2’8” x 2’ wooden box to travel by mail from the south to the freedom of Philadelphia. His journey earned him the nickname “Box.”
Grammy-award nominee Jenkins, well-known for his collaboration with The Roots, sees Box’s story as an opportunity to introduce a new slave narrative—the story of a real person, who is deeply flawed, highly talented and limitlessly resilient.
“The African-American slave narrative currently reads like a nightmare,” said Jenkins. “Schools don’t have the time to fully teach students about this horrific part of American history, so it gets glossed over and students miss the complexity of their history.
“My hope is to highlight a different narrative buried inside the simple history taught in schools, by introducing Henry Box Brown as one of many African-American heroes whom American history has forgotten. The African-American was not just a slave, and Henry Box Brown is the perfect person to illustrate this, through his multi-faceted personality.”
This show introduces Brown as not just a slave fighting for his freedom, but a multi-talented man who read and wrote poetry, practiced magic and hypnotism, and sang in a church choir. The man we meet traveled the world, took a stand against slavery, and spoke out politically.
The show begins after Box has commenced his travel and is earning fame as a performer, capitalizing on his journey to entertain audiences and speak out about slavery. The musical opens in a theater where Box is telling his amazing story.
Box’s story, however, doesn’t end with his success on the stage. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 forced Box to go underground, as it required that fugitive slaves be turned in and sent back to slavery. Box once again fled for his freedom, moving to Europe, where he lived for several decades. His final act is unknown. He was last seen onstage in Ontario, Canada in 1889, but reports of his death there have not been confirmed.
Jenkins, who shares Box’s large build, stars in the show. His co-stars include Minister Jamie Knight, an artist formerly on Jay-Z’s record label, and Gina Costanzo (“Gina Zo”) from Team Blake Shelton on NBC’s “The Voice.”
Jenkins co-wrote the music with hip hop producer Seth Barmash. Former BET and Disney writer Philip S. Brown directs the show and wrote the narrative.
Henry Box Brown: A Hip Hop Musical runs each Thursday through Saturday, February 1-17 at 7 p.m. Matiness are 11 a.m. Fridays and 3 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets range from $30 to $50; student tickets are available for $10. Community organizations may request a block of free tickets for children.
Originally scheduled for the stage of the venerable New Freedom Theatre in North Philadelphia, the show is now opening at the theatre in Community College of Philadelphia’s Bonnell Building, 556 N. 17th Street, due to a major flood at New Freedom Theatre. Jenkins will be donating five percent of the proceeds of all ticket sales to help New Freedom clean up from the flood.