SHOUT SISTER SHOUT – A MUSICAL PLAY REVIEW

SHOUT SISTER SHOUT – A MUSICAL PLAY REVIEW
AUGUST 12, 2017 – Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, CA http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

By jazz journalist Dee Dee McNeil

Tracy Nicole Chapman does an incredible job of portraying the character of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an American icon, in the musical play, “Shout Sister Shout”. Rosetta Tharpe provided a pathway for women in Rock and Roll to follow, long before it was acceptable for a female to play guitar and entertain along-side of male musicians. Tracy Nicole Chapman exhibited a powerful voice Thursday night, along with the thespian skills to persuade us she was Ms. Tharp.

Starting from the very first song, an original composition by Rosetta Tharp titled “Up Above My Head, I Hear Music in the Air” she had the audience in the palm of her hands. Logan Charles also is to be complimented on his beautiful voice, playing the part of Isaiah, who is a suicidal young man who wants to play guitar like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. God has asked Ms. Tharpe to inspire and save this child from his demons. She is expected to accomplish this before she can leave earth and go to heaven. Rosetta shares her story of triumph and tragedy with the young man, in order to give him a sense of purpose and spirituality; strength and determination. Certainly she had to use those traits to survive in a world that frowned on her dreams and criticized her personal life decisions, while she was in search of her own identity and values. The choral trio who sang “Lay My Burden Down” brought the gospel church into the crowded Pasadena Playhouse. Boise Holmes, Armando Yearwood, Jr. and Thomas Hobson played interactive parts throughout this production with strong voices and dancing abilities. They got the audience to clap and participate in the joy on-stage. Rosetta’s mother is played by Yvette Cason, whose lovely and powerful voice echoed through the theater like an electricity bolt. Her rendition of “The Lonesome Road” was spellbinding and I was truly touched by her interpretation of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Angela Teek Hitchman was persuasive in three key roles. She played a church woman who tells Rosetta’s preacher husband that she saw her playing guitar and singing in a juke joint. She also plays Marie Knight, Rosetta’s love interest after three unsuccessful marriages and adds her tenacious voice to the ensemble pieces, as well as singing memorable duets with Tracy Nicole Chapman.

We learn that Rosetta Tharpe and her mother were Evangelist preachers and singers with a strong belief in the holy bible. But Rosetta’s talents on vocals and guitar were established early on and she longed to play other music. After her first marriage to an older preacher-man, she went back to making music as a solo artist. She was the first to cross-over gospel music into the realm of pop and blues; performing at the Cotton Club and even Carnegie Hall. Chuck Berry stole his famous duck-walk from none other than the popular Rosetta Tharpe. She was the first to do that move on stage. She was also the first cross-over gospel star to work with the Lucky Millander Orchestra. She was one of the few African American artists featured in the popular Life Magazine and Rosetta inspired and encouraged artists like Little Richard and Johnny Cash.

I wish the character Isaiah had turned out to be one of the many famous people that Rosetta inspired during her climb to fame like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis, rather than a non-descript person. I think that would have added to this treasured biography, because those men were influenced by Rosetta. However, all in all, this is an enjoyable musical full of history and happy music.

The band is spectacularly led by Orchestra Conductor/pianist, Rahn Coleman. Ron Bishop is superb on piano/keyboard and organ. Quentin Dennard propels the aggregation with his drums and Carl Vincent plays a mean upright bass and electric bass. Charles Fearing is the wonderful guitarist behind the scenes, who adds spunk and believability to Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s outstanding guitar solos. This is a musical play for the whole family to enjoy and an important piece of music history. It runs through August 20, 2017.

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