A Murder Mystery That Captures Jacksonville: Duval The Musical

In a city with as much square footage as Jacksonville, “Duval The Musical,” needs to cover a lot of ground. But playwright Christavia “Tay” Dickinson wanted to create a murder mystery set in her hometown featuring characters who are easily relatable in any Duval neighborhood.

Duval The Musical” will be staged February 24th at 5pm at Friday Musicale in Riverside (www.duvalthemusical.com). Dickinson created the play as a nod to her hometown that would showcase her theatre chops for a program in Albany, NY. I wanted to take something I had written, with my own music, to New York,” she says, “I tried to think about a musical that everyone can relate to, and I thought about “Chicago”.”

“Duval the Musical” follows a group of seven high school friends from Jacksonville who have achieved success and prominent positions within the community. Yet each conceals darkness that threatens to catch up to them. How many crimes do the characters commit – and cover up – without getting caught and tarnishing their reputations? The criminal activity could strengthen their bond, or it could tear them apart.

t“”Chicago” is about the women getting away with murder. In this play, there’s a group of friends, and there is some crime involved, and there’s also a lawyer involved. The only difference between our play and “Chicago” is that it’s not all females. We do have a male lead as well. All of the professions that are covered in the play are relatable. We have a pastor, a nurse, doctor, model, entrepreneur, just different life stories. Everybody has their own secret, so it will relate to all different types of people.”

The cast of Duval the Musical features Roby Dickinson, Tekeshia M. Johnson, Lynette Boles, Shannon Johnson, Mz Hollywood, Markin Barnes, Anetra Robinson, Mary Sanders, Tanya Haynes Cummings, Desirae Vanae and Carolyn Brock.

It’s not all murder and mystery. Dickinson sprinkled comedy throughout the modern crime drama to balance out the criminal activity, which she ensures is all fictional. “It’s not based on any true story. I’ll be sure to make that disclaimer at the beginning of the play,” says Dickinson. “It’s definitely all fictional, but I did include some real facts, like in the theme song, it brings up how Jacksonville is the forgotten film capital. We have such a different history in our city. It’s not just all bad. I’m trying to bring that aspect out.”

Dickinson not only wrote and stars in “Duval the Musical,” but she also composed the original score with a mixed bag of flavors from jazz to hip-hop. “We have a lot of different styles because I want it to be for everybody. I didn’t want it to be for just one type of person or one race or one age group. I was trying to make a little something that everyone could enjoy.”

She says the cast plans to perform the theme song at locations throughout the city before showtime to share the message and encourage people to show support to the labor of love that pays tribute to “Duuuuuuuvaaaal.”

I want people to be interested in our production and realize that it really represents the city,” she says. “Everyone is really trying to bring this city out, and more people are being known in the entertainment industry, so it’s something I wanted to do about the city where I’ve been forever.”

Growing up as a self-described “preacher’s kid,” Dickinson found her voice singing hymns in church. She learned to be comfortable performing in front of a crowded room, but she also witnessed the joy singing brought people as well as herself.

“I’ve been around music my whole life. I’ve been a lead singer, background singer, all of that good stuff, so I decided this year just to try and step out into some different areas and see what else is out there,” she says.

“Duval the Musical” is a multi-dimensional production which Dickinson hopes captures all of the elements of her hometown. “That’s why we brought up the positive and the negatives in our song. We show both viewpoints. I actually took a poll online and just asked people what do you like about Duval? What don’t you like? And I kind of just took all of those ideas and put them into the [theme] song,” she says.

“I personally feel that while you might not have as many resources, because it’s so big it can be kind of hard getting the word out and getting the support you need. On a positive note, I do see that a lot of people are coming from out of town and investing in our city when it comes to the arts, so I’m really ready for that.”

Dickinson plans to stage a revival of her musical this summer. While she’s not closing the door completely on the theatre program in New York, she’s planning to stick around Jacksonville for a while to see what windows may open. She says, “I’m still going to go up for two weeks after the show, just to check it out, but I don’t want to leave while opportunities are opening here. Things are good. I will definitely be back.”

About Liza Mitchell