Based on a real concert series that Dallas author-historian-producer Alan Govenar presented in 1989, Texas in Paris is about two Texas musical artists — a black South Dallas widow and a white former cowboy — traveling to Paris to perform together for the first time. It sounds like a typical, feel-good, educational, can’t-we-all-get-along piece of work, but it turns out — according to several generally positive New York reviews — to be a thin but affecting, dramatic journey into America through music, including spirituals, cowboy songs and country hymns. And it certainly helps, it seems, to have Tony Award-winner and powerhouse singer Lillias White in one of the two roles.
Govenar interviewed Mays over 15 years and wrote her 2000 children’s book memoir, Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper’s Daughter, which became a #1 bestseller on Amazon among ‘teen and young adult’ U. S. history books. Brought up to fear white people, Osceola had never been out of Texas before when she flew to Paris for Govenar’s concert attempt to bring ‘the real Texas’ to the French. With Burrus, Govenar had produced recordings of his cowboy songs in 1988 — and like a reverse image of Osceola, he had grown up segregated, with little experience of African-Americans. “Are you on welfare?” is the first question he asks her in the play.
But to give some idea of the show’s reception, here are two excerpts from Laura Collins-Hughes’ NYTimes review:
Giving a glorious, glamour-free performance in sensible shoes, Ms. White provides the emotional center of gravity for a musical play that is as much about race relations in America as it is about the spirituals and cowboy songs that run through it…That the 80-minute show largely succeeds is a credit to the direction of [Dallasite] Akin Babatundé, who collaborated with Mr. Govenar on an earlier musical at the York, “Blind Lemon Blues.” The actors’ performances, too, are beautifully calibrated. Mr. Wakefield is restrained yet unflinching, while Ms. White’s Osceola is meant to outshine John in their concerts, and does.