Jevetta Steele has been a very close friend of mine for many years. Whenever we’re together, howls of laughter are the norm. We push each other’s funny buttons in ways no others do. Our kids went to pre-school together and we have concocted many shows with Jevetta as writer and performer and me as director. A dozen altogether. Since she was 19! We have also been through thick and thin in each other’s lives. In the late 90’s Jevetta told me she wanted to share her own story with the world, the story of her marriage that pivoted when she learned that her husband was gay and HIV positive. She knew the title – TWO QUEENS ONE CASTLE – and on a journey we went.
I first commissioned a playwright I love – David Barr III of Chicago – to pen this autobiographical musical, but the chemistry didn’t click. We had focus groups with women who had similar stories. And it became clear that Tom Jones, with whom we’d both worked repeatedly and who is my close friend and confidant, my “brother from another mother,” should be Jevetta’s collaborator. Jevetta’s vulnerability in sharing feelings and incidents and responses was breathtaking and they translated those yarns into a moving, heartfelt musical in which Jevetta bravely played herself. Her brother, JD Steele, and William Hiubbard, composed the music.
Jevetta is a public figure, an entertainer extraordinaire, a family member, a Christian, a daughter, a wife, a mother (now grandmother), and so much more. All that makes her her went into TWO QUEENS ONE CASTLE. Days before its opening, Senator Paul Wellstone tragically died and I was publicly harangued at his Williams Arena funeral for outing Jevetta’s ex-husband. There were threats during the run that people would disrupt the performance and end the show. Lawsuits were threatened. All of this let all of us know we were doing something courageous and important.
For that initial run in our Alan Page Auditorium, the seats were packed, the reviews were charged, and the audience stood at every curtain call. TWO QUEENS ONE CASTLE was invited to the National Alliance of Musical Theater’s Festival of New American Musicals in New York. Then we mounted it again in a 450-seat theater in Minneapolis a few years later.
TWO QUEENS ONE CASTLE was about love and race and family and career and redemption and honesty and betrayal. As art, it was magnificent. As a testimonial, it was truly remarkable. As an opportunity to cement a deep friendship forever, it was invaluable. To me, on this day of looking back, this was Mixed Blood at its best.