Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Theatre: Roundup Edition

Shout Sister Shout by Cheryl L. West, Created by Randy Johnson & Cheryl L. West, Directed by Randy Johnson, Seattle Repertory Theatre through December 22nd
Head Over Heels The Musical, Conceived and original book by Jeff Whitty, Adapted by James Magruder, Directed by Matthew Wright. Arts West,  Through December 29th.
The Great Moment by Anna Siegler, Directed by Braden Abraham, Seattle Rep through November 17th (yeah, it's closed)
Sunset Baby by Dominique Morisseau, Dire ted by Valerie Curtis-Newton, Arts West through October 20th (Yeah, I've been pushing thing off that long)

I have been busy, and let even the barest minimum of this blog slip - to wit, the Theatre Reviews.

This is perishable fruit, because who wants to read reviews of shows that have long since slipped the surly bonds of matinee performances and moved on?  Yet I'm going to do a bunch of them, just to keep things up to date. And two of them are still playing, until the end of the month.

Shout Sister Shout is still going on, and well worth attending (There, you can skip the rest of the page if you want). It is a bioplay (a biopic for theatre) of the life of Sister Rosetta Thorpe, the Godmother of Rock 'n Roll. A foundational African-American performer, mostly forgotten today, more popular in Europe than in Jim Crow America. I know, it sounds like the play about Nina Simone last year, but it has a heartbeat and a verve all its own.

The entire play encapsulates the life and times of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, played incredibly well by Carrie Compere, The actress goes from child prodigy to elder stateswoman with all stops in between. A gospel singer by upbringing, she wanted to bring the music of the Lord forward to the masses, at the cost of rejection by her own congregations for hanging with the heathens. The play portrays Tharpe as no saint, acceding when she should have stood up, or taking the money when offered, but in the end creates a well-rounded picture of this pioneer. We name check the other performers of the era, from Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club, Dizzy Gilespie, and Little Richard, as the story barrels forward, including her relationship with Marie Knight.

Compere, as Stone, is pretty much fantastic, with a wonderful voice and a great guitar chops (the Little Richard Strut? She did that first). It's common to see a performance built around one great voice, but Shout Sister Shout gives us two. Carol Dennis, as Stone' mother and the pivotal other figure in the story, matches her note for note and hearstring for heartstring.

Performances are great, stagecraft (a scrim decked with white guitars) is excellent, and the music top-notch. Go see it.

Hear Over Heels is also very good, but in a different weight class. Arts West, in a renovated department store in West Seattle, is a smaller, more intimate venue, both in stage space and audience. I expected smaller plays in this space, but it goes all out, with a cast as large as Shout Sister Shout that packs the stage and avoids collisions.

The play itself is a celebration of the Go-Gos. OK, I have trouble separating the Bangles from the Go-Gos, but they had about four recognizable greatest hits, all which get their time (hint for those confused between the two - the Go-Gos got the beat, the Bangles walked like an Egyptian). They merge the music with the Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, from the 16th century, which is ... quite frankly much MORE confusing and darker than the pared-down plot presented here.

Here's the simple version: The King gets a dire prediction from the Oracle at Delphi, but conceals it from his Queen and schemes to foil the predictions. The shepherd, who is in love with the royal younger daughter, masquerades as an Amazon warrior to be near her. Both King and Queen fall for the Amazon. Plus the older daughter rejects all suitors, and comes to terms with her own love of her maidservant. Yeah, its a lot about sexuality and gender preference, with a huge heaping of misunderstandings, layered with 80s pop. Whackiness evolves with a 9 principles and huge supporting ensemble. Not nearly as deep as Shout, Sister, Shout, but impressive in what it attains.

And the cast is uniformly strong. No standout voices, (OK, back me against a wall and I'd say Ann Cornelius as Queen Gynecia is really good (No, I am NOT making up these names)). Serious packed with wall-to-wall music, light and bouncy, and a feelgood production. Even if they don't play "Hazy Shade of Winter".

Sunset Baby was the first play of the season at Arts West, and fits much more within my expectations. It is a simple play with a single set and three actors. Nina (Aishe Keitaa) is the daughter of civil rights warriors and is Bonnie to her boyfriend's Clyde.  Mom's dead after a disastrous decline, Dad has been in jail for years. Dad is out and wants letters that Mom wrote him but never sent. Nina (again, a call-back to Nina Simone) has become hard-shelled and transactional over the years and has the letters. That's pretty much it.

Sunset Baby is an early work by an author who has done things more notable later works (see also: In The Heights). To be frank it shows - the characters are not speaking to each other as much as they are playing to the audience - their dialogue didactic as opposed to engaged. It is noticeable and a warning for my own writing.

The Great Moment is another earlier work, this time from the author of Photograph 51, which I loved to pieces. Again, it shows weakness in the script and promises of better work to come. She keeps the unmoored in time concept, but applies it to a domestic situation and the ruminations on time and mortality. But the author also breaks the fourth wall with an Ellen DeGeneres sort of perkiness, and is an autobiographical character (maybe not one-to-one, but enough to make one uncomfortable). Not a bad production, but still weaker than normal Rep fare.

There - caught up. Now bring on the next batch!

More later,