Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Love Sung in The Key of Aretha
Westcoast Black Theater Troup

Also see Bill's review of The Last Romance

Teresa Stanley and Cast
It is wonderful to see the energy and talent currently on display in Westcoast Black Theater Troup's presentation of Love Sung in the Key of Aretha because only a few years ago WBTT was in danger of extinction. At the time, Christine Jennings and Howard Milman, well known in the community, formed a new board of directors for the theater, put them on a much surer financial footing, found a space and rehabilitated it into a lovely performance space. All of this has allowed the estimable Nate Jacobs to do what he does best, produce shows and nurture talent. WBTT also won last year's coveted Best Musical by a Professional Company award for its production Marvin Gaye, Prince of Soul in the area's Handy Awards, given for excellence in local theater.

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 music—I 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 and Teresa Stanley
Each time Ms. Porter threatens to wipe the stage with everyone around her, Theresa Stanley steps out to remind the audience that she didn't get to Broadway (in the musical A Color Purple in a series of supporting roles) for no reason. Her highlights include "Young Gifted and Black" and "I Never Loved a Man (the Way that I Love You)." Returning to her theatrical family, she shows what a pro is, taking center stage when she should, showering us with her powerhouse of a voice, and lending dramatic strength to the rest of the company just by being in their orbit. This is a commanding powerful performance.

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 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
Tsadok Porter as Carolyn
Ariel Blue as Doris
Alyssa White as Sharon
Santoy Campbell as John
Steve Cannon as George
Mikeyy Mendez as Kevin
Michael Phillips as Harold
Bianca T. Sumter, Damienne Flagler, Charles Manning, Leon S. Pitts II, Chakara Rosa, Edwin Santiago and Tamera Williams as Ensemble.

Written and Directed by Nate Jacobs
Todd Bellamy—Piano
Jamar Camp—Auxiliary Keys
Julian Christian—Auxiliary Keys (Alternate)
James E. Dodge, II—Music Director and Bass Guitar
Xavier Murray—Drummer
Choreography by Harry Bryce

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See the current season schedule for West Coast Florida

--William S. Oser

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