Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Gidion's Knot
Surprisingly, Girl Groups does not measure up to the best of Nate Jacobs' previous productions, which might include Soul Crooners (I and II) and Marvin Gaye: Prince of Soul. Part of the reason is that Nate has focused on too small a musical subset, and while the first half of act one contains some well loved songs, mostly recorded by white girl groups, the second half of the act contains what I feel are lesser-known songs. Now, pop-rock circa early and mid-1960s is by no means my strongest musical magnet, but I am familiar with most of the most popular songs. Things improve noticeably in act two with tributes to Martha and the Vandellas and The Supremes, but for a musical send out Nate had to reach outside the focus genre to an Ike and Tina Turner mega hit, "Proud Mary," followed by two more from them, "To Love Somebody" and "Sweet Inspiration." Another issue for me is that almost all of this repertory was written to be sung by very young singers and pitched to very younger teensbubble gum rock. A steady diet of this is liable to send my blood sugar to unacceptable levels.
Our performers all are seasoned veterans and unable to bring exactly the right seasoning to this material. Only Khadija "Kat" Sallet has the right youthfulness that would ideally suit this material, but because her voice has the darkest timbre and she is singing the bottom of the harmonies, this quality doesn't project as much as I would have liked. Syreeta S. Banks, recently sprung from The Holy Order of the Little sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith (Sister Act, the musical), company favorite Ariel Blue and JoAnna Ford (a last minute substitute for an ailing Alyssa White) and the above mentioned Khadija "Kat" Sallet form our talented cast. All are very talented performers, but with that mature talent comes the ability that better serves really fine songs. Yes, some of the ones early in the first act are toe tappers; band leader James E. Dodge, II couldn't stop himself from mouthing the words and bouncing to "Chapel of Love," which is one of the most fun moments of the show. Other highlights include "Da Doo Ron Ron," He's So Fine," "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" and "Sweet Talking Guy" in the first act and "Heatwave," "Keep Me Hangin' On," "Stop in the Name of Love," and "Someday We'll Be Together" in the second.
This time out Nate Jacobs keeps the talk between the numbers very limited. His direction is focused and the singers rotate leads on the various songs pretty evenly throughout the show. Donald Frison's choreography is suggestive of the period but not as authentic as I might have liked. Many in the audience remember the Motown girl groups well from TV appearances; they had an ultra smooth way of moving that isn't quite captured. Scenic design by John C. Reynolds suggests the glamour, as do costumes by Cristy Owen. Lighting design by Nick Jones makes everyone look fabulous and wig design by Parker Lawhorn, so much a part of this era, does a good job suggesting the period. Music direction by James E. Dodge, II again reminded me that I would rather have him leading a WBTT production than any of the guest music directors.
Even if Girl Groups is not the best revue WBTT has ever presented, audiences that can score tickets are still going to get a great return for their entertainment dollar.
Girl Groups: The '60s Explosion, presented by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, through April 9, 2017, at 1646 Nate Jacobs Way, Sarasota, Florida, 941-366-1505. For more information, visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.
Directed by Nate Jacobs