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‘Ain’t No Mo’ ’ director Stevie Walker-Webb on saving his show

The new Broadway play "Ain't No Mo' " opened at the Belasco Theatre on Dec. 1. Eight days later, it announced a closing date of Dec. 18.

Stevie Walker-Webb

The new Broadway play “Ain’t No Mo’ ” opened at the Belasco Theatre on Dec. 1. Eight days later, it announced a closing date of Dec. 18. But the show remains open; 27-year-old playwright Jordan E. Cooper decided to fight for the production that marks his Broadway debut — launching the social media campaign #SaveAintNoMo.

Celebrities in New York and Hollywood answered the cry, which resulted in a one-week extension to Dec. 23. Director Stevie Walker-Webb, who also makes his Broadway debut with the satirical romp, has witnessed the rallying of the community to keep the show open.

“[‘Ain’t No Mo’ ’] on its own is so worthy. It has so much merit to it. But it’s really kind of powerful watching the way that the industry has rallied around this,” Walker-Webb told Broadway News at a reading of the musical “Gun & Powder,” which he is also directing. “Both the TV and film industry — Jordan’s a Hollywood baby all of a sudden — everyone’s showing up for him — and then also here in New York, the industry [is] showing up for him.”

Walker-Webb continued, “People who can’t afford tickets are finding people to sponsor tickets for them. People who can afford multiple tickets are buying tickets for other people. People who don’t normally see Broadway are all of a sudden rushing to see this play. And I think everyone in our industry is looking to the left and the right being like, ‘Wait a minute, maybe we should [act] differently about how we try to move plays to Broadway,’ and ‘How can we make it more accessible?’ ”

For Walker-Webb, he feels the impact of the play itself and the unexpected movement it has created. “It’s the shot heard ’round the world,” he said with a smile. “I feel like our industry is going to be forever changed by the play, but also forever changed by this moment.”

He and Cooper, whom Walker-Webb calls his “best friend,” worked on this “labor of love” for five and a half years. And while there is a specific plea to save “Ain’t No Mo’,” the play’s struggle represents a larger question for the Broadway industry.

“Jordan’s been talking a lot about: What does it mean when you have an original work that’s not trying to duplicate a film that everyone already knows [where] there’s a built-in audience? Or [when] you don’t put a big shiny star at the middle of a play? What happens?” Walker-Webb shared. “Everyone’s stopping and thinking, ‘Whoa, can we do original works? Can we do works that break form and don’t go down so easy? Can we do this kind of work on Broadway?’ And the answer is emphatically yes.”

Breaking form is exactly why Walker-Webb signed on to direct “Gun & Powder,” which marks the first time he’s helmed a musical. He says that “just how ‘Ain’t No Mo’ ’ breaks the form of how we experience a straight play, ‘Gun & Powder’ is really messing with the form of the musical — the second act completely opens up in a way that’s so unexpected.”

The original piece, written by composer Ross Baum and librettist Angelica Chéri, with sights set on Broadway, tells the true story of Texas twins Mary and Martha Clarke, two Black sharecroppers who passed for white and became feared outlaws. The story sparked a connection with Walker-Webb, as he was raised in Waco, Texas, and his grandmother was a sharecropper. Walker-Webb is here to make an impact with the theater he chooses to work on.

In the immediate future, the director will head to Off-Broadway’s Classic Stage Company to helm “Black Odyssey,” written by Marcus Gardley. The production had been planned for last winter but was postponed.

Still, Walker-Webb won’t wander too far from Cooper. “Jordan’s got a new play that I don’t want to talk about, but it’s a comedy [that’s] going to just split your sides,” he said. “His work has taught me that you get more ‘aha!’s from ‘haha’s.”

When it comes to “Ain’t No Mo’,” Walker-Webb doesn’t know if there will be further extensions. Regardless, he reflects, “There’s all this personal heartbreak, but it’s really being tempered by this moment where people are responding and saying, ‘We’re not going to let you go away quietly into the dark and we don’t want you to.’ ”