Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Love Sung in The Key of Aretha
Also see Bill's review of The Last Romance
Mr. Jacobs conceived and wrote the current production. It is much more than a parade of Aretha Franklin's greatest hits; it is a true theater piece which uses the music to tell the stories of a cluster of African-American women in 1968 Florida. Having a dramatic background does much to illuminate the dramatic depths of this music. I am not sure that Nate Jacobs has found the perfect balance between the back stories and the musicI wonder if the dramatic parts could be reduced a bit and the songs given a chance to build toward bigger endings.
All of this becomes of little import when the performances of Theresa Stanley as earth mother Maddie; Tsadok Porter as neighbor Carolyn; Ariel Blue as assistant earth mother in need of some mothering herself, Doris; and Alyssa White as her daughter Sharon are so engaging. I absolutely expect to see Ms. Porter nominated for an award for best performance by a leading lady in a musical. She sings in every mood from sultry ("Today I Sing the Blues") to comic ("The House that Jack Built") to sassy as sassy can be ("Dr. Feelgood"), and just flat out owns the stage.
Ariel Blue also displays an exciting voice, and I would love to see her in a starring role in another production. The program biography says that the young Ms. White is only 16, but she already has an exciting voice and seems poised for stardom herself. Anyone care to mount the musical Purlie (one of my favorites if only for its exciting score) with Ms. White as Luttiebelle Gussie May Jenkins?
It is a great evening for all the ladies. They are assisted by a company of men in various dramatic parts and young girls, everyone singing back up vocals. A four-man band led by James E. Dodge, II gives great support to all the music.
Costumes by Nikole Renae Hamilton help establish the mood and feel of the late 1960s, and all the other technical aspects of the production show how much this company is growing.
Love in the Key of Aretha, presented by WBTT Theater, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. Through January 16, 2012. For more information, visit www.wbttsrq.org. Future productions by WBTT include A Raisin in the Sun January - February 2012, Sammy (Davis Jr.) Tonight March - April 2012 and Blackbird The Story of Josephine Baker, April - May 2012.
Teresa Stanley as Mattie
Written and Directed by Nate Jacobs