Sister Rosetta Tharpe is on a mission from God; to save a despondent, young musician by showing him a thing or two, by taking him on a journey, by taking him to church. Yes, actual church but also the church of music and of life. So begins Randy Johnson’s new musical play about the untold story of the godmother of Rock-and-Roll, trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. It’s a way for us to look back over the life and times of Rosetta and for her to relive the significant moments that shaped her.
We are immediately thrust into a 1930’s tent revival where the phenomenal Thomas Hobson, Boise Holmes and Armando Yearwood, Jr. get the party started with some traditional gospel numbers that had the audience clapping along and shouting back which set the tone for the rest of the show. Holmes has a killer voice and charisma for days as each of the several characters he plays. Hobson is slick and handsome and delivers a hilarious and spot-on turn as Little Richard. Yearwood is charming and sharp as a tack as Lucky, the stage manager and others.
Michael A. Shepperd is an imposing presence and makes the most of his roles, especially menacing when he has to be as Reverend Tharpe. The women in this show simply transcend as they embody the various women, famous and otherwise, in Rosetta’s life. Angela Teek Hitchman has one of those voices that just pierces through the dark and she gives a dazzling and poignant performance as Marie Knight. Yvette Cason is back at the Playhouse after playing Nina Simone in A Night With Janis Joplin and what a joy it is to hear her stunning voice as Mahalia Jackson. She brings depth and maturity to each role and, as Rosetta’s mother, sings a glorious Take My Hand, Precious Lord.
Tracy Nicole Chapman starts the journey as a shy, mousy, church girl and evolves into an international star right before our eyes. Chapman is breathtaking in the role and is just as believable in her little country dress as when she’s draped in fur and lace about to sing at Carnegie Hall. Chapman is a Broadway veteran and it shows. She nails Sister Rosetta’s joie de vivre, wit, charm and grit.
Logan Charles does a nice job with the rather thankless role of Isaiah, the young man Rosetta is hoping to save. He’s got a lovely voice and sings the two original songs written by Melissa Manchester. I’m not altogether convinced of the use of this device as a way in to Rosetta’s life. Johnson’s play delivers best when it’s all Rosetta, singing and jamming with her life’s amazing cast of characters.
The choreography by Keith Young is outstanding in that it truly accentuates the music and the emotions. It never feels superfluous; every movement has purpose and the cast executes it with incredible verve. Having the stellar musicians on stage is perfect, adding even more excitement. Led by the incomparable Rahn Coleman on Keyboard, the band is made up of a who’s who in the music industry; Ronnie Bishop on second keyboard, Charles Fearing on guitar, Quentin Dennard on drums and Michael Saucier on bass. They literally could be their own show.
Shout Sister Shout! is a long overdue homage that does Sister Rosetta proud.
Shout Sister Shout! 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.
Arrive early and get the full-throttle theater experience; 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.