If you’ve never heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, sadly you are not alone. However, the creators of the new musical Shout Sister Shout! are aiming to change that by bringing to light the story of the woman whom many refer to as “the Godmother of Rock and Roll.” She was a guitar virtuoso known in the 1930’s for her unique mixture of spiritual lyrics and percussive guitar that were a precursor of rock and roll. In fact, many of the rock and roll greats like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Little Richard and Chuck Berry cite Sister Rosetta as an inspiration.
It has been said she was ahead of her time by several decades and her music wasn’t truly appreciated and lauded until after her death. Says creator and director Randy Johnson, “Rosetta inspired some of the greatest talents of all time and is still the best kept secret within the landscape of musical giants. I decided it was time to shine a light on this great lady, her music, her life and legacy.”
Giving life to the role of Sister Rosetta is Broadway veteran Tracy Nicole Chapman, who in no way saw this role coming. Best known for originating the role of Shenzi in The Lion King on Broadway, Chapman says she heard they were making a musical about Sister Rosetta and thought, “oh I can’t wait to see that!” Never in a million years thinking she would not only be in it but be playing Rosetta.
Chapman had been living in Los Angeles as of late, raising her children and not entirely laser focused on her career when her agent called about auditioning for Shout. Friends and family kept telling her it was a sign so she auditioned for the smaller role of Marie. Producers asked her to prepare something for Rosetta and come back. She landed the role and says she was shocked, “but I thought maybe this is a sign” reflects Chapman, “this opportunity just landed in my lap so why don’t I just go with it.”
Chapman has been playing guitar for years and says when she started she studied female African-American artists like Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading, Odetta and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Chapman is still surprised that so few people know about her outside the music industry. In researching the role, she discovered so much more about Rosetta’s life of being a child prodigy at 6 years old and how she traveled the country with her mother who was an evangelist. “I also learned that she was a hoot!” laughs Chapman, “the writer, Cheryl West, has really captured Rosetta’s sense of humor and her fearlessness and she is just fun to play!”
Of director Randy Johnson, Chapman says, “he really cares about actors, respects our opinions about how to bring Rosetta to life.” She goes on to speak highly of the whole creative team, “I’ve been so lucky to work with Charles Fearing who is helping me specifically with guitar and our musical director, Rahn Coleman and the entire band are fantastic! And they are on stage with us which is really great.”
There are seven actors playing multiple roles from Little Richard to Mahalia Jackson, who are a part of Rosetta’s life. Sister Rosetta has obviously inspired Chapman throughout the process and the takeaway has been she says, “to accept who you are and how God has made you. Be yourself and go with it!”
Shout Sister Shout! also stars Logan Charles, Yvette Cason, Michael A. Shepperd, Angela Teek, Thomas Hobson, Boise Holmes, and Armando Yearwood Jr. Directed by Randy Johnson, Book by Cheryl West, Choreography by Keith Young.
Arrive early and get the full-throttle theater experience at Shout Sister Shout!
Pose and play with new Gibson guitars, snap a photo in the Gibson guitar throne, hear live music and more.
On Friday August 4, August 11 or August 18, hear School of Rock Pasadena House Band play hits by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Johnny Cash, Chuck Barry and Jerry Lee Lewis at 7:30pm in the courtyard!
Shout Sister Shout! is currently in previews. Official opening July 30, 2017 – runs through August 20, 2017.
Tickets from $25-$115. Visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org
Call (626) 356-7529. Located at 39 South El Molino Avenue in Pasadena