BWW Review: SISTAS the Musical Showcases Strength & Soul at The Ensemble Theatre

BWW Review: SISTAS the Musical Showcases Strength & Soul at The Ensemble TheatreNever before have I stepped into a theatre, seen the curtain rise, and then heard the familiar early 2000's notes of Kelis' "Milkshake" ring out from the stage. While this song seems out of place for the theatre, The Ensemble Theatre's SISTAS showcases a lively home for it onstage, along with over thirty other female, African American hit songs from history. In the case of SISTAS the Musical, music is not just a component of the performance. Rather, it is a vehicle for tales of historical background, healing, and community.


SISTAS follows the historical, emotional, and familial journey that five women must face after their grandmother passes, leaving them to drudge up to the cluttered history of her attic to sort through her things, as they always do when a family member passes. The sisters, Dr. Simone (Regina Hearne), Roberta (Delali Potakey), Tamika (Sharayah Reed), Heather (Chaney Moore), and Gloria (Eboni Williams) must perform at Grandma Alice's memorial service that night, and are tasked with picking a song to perform. This sounds like an easy feat, but three sisters + one daughter + one sister-in-law adds up to five big personalities, five different perspectives, and a whole lotta sassy singing.

Director Patdro Harris took to the stage before the leading ladies of SISTAS began their performance to deliver a simple, profound description of what SISTAS the Musical is, and aims to be. Harris emphasized that music is an unspoken language understood by all-old or young, religious or 'never-stepped-foot-in-a-church', bitter or sweet, and "black, white, green, or purple" as character Heather (Chaney Moore) remarks in the show. These opposing characteristics are found in the sisters throughout the show, and while these differences bring about instantaneous familial conflict, they are ultimately what bring the sisters together.

Harris noted that while all the sisters deal with the tough conversations and touchy topics they encounter in their own way, "you'll notice that they all stay in the room". Harris went on to say that he hopes SISTAS can be a starting point of conversation and a healing place for the often brushed-under-the-rug topics regarding race, historical injustice, and social prejudice. By using music to tell this story, SISTAS becomes a kind of therapy, not only for the characters onstage as they work through personal anecdotes, but for the audience members witnessing the performance. He encouraged audience members to "stay in the room" when confronted with difficult topics, because while many of us might think we have a lot to say, nine times out of ten, listening is more valuable.

With music direction by Chika Kaba Ma'Atunde, SISTAS takes the audience through a variety of well-loved hits, from Oh Happy Day, to I Will Survive, to I Have Nothing. While most of the vocal performances packed with a punch, the most effective culmination of music, dance, and soulful singing came through in Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around, with a stripped-down beat and seamless harmonies that gave me chills.

While the acting between characters felt superficial at times, the characters individually seemed at home in their roles. Reed was likable as Tamika, the stereotypical naïve teen daughter never caught without her headphones and iPhone in hand. Williams was a voice of reason and grace onstage as sister Gloria, and she brought a great deal of truth-and impressive choreography-to her performance. Hearne's voice shined through Dr. Simone, as one of the most vocally strong of the group. However, Delali Potakey brought an element of comfortability to her performance that was lacking at times in the others. Potakey was more than convincing as the bitter, damaged, and emotionally-closed-off Roberta, who finds healing throughout the show. Her voice and actions never seemed like artificial acting.

The dynamic of the show is greatly shifted for the better because of the inclusion of white sister-in-law Heather (Chaney Moore), who I'm sure many in our time can identify with, whether they'd like to admit it or not. Her blissful ignorance and somewhat-oblivious opinions ignore the privilege she has carried her whole life because of the color of her skin. Because of this, you love to hate Heather. I give my props to Moore for playing this character with honesty and transparency, allowing the audience to recognize who Heather's character may be in their life.

Seeing an imbalance of justice played out onstage, it's easy to point fingers at the 'Heathers' of the world, and even think to yourself, "How could she be so blind to the offensive things she is saying and doing?". However, the inclusion of this character is vital to the message of the show, because it holds up a mirror to those in the audience that have been, or maybe are currently, the 'Heather in the room'.

True to The Ensemble Theatre fashion, one of the most lively components of the show came from the audience's energy. Audience members were welcomed to sing along with their classic favorites, if they felt inspired to. Several voices were heard singing in joyful agreement as crowd favorites such as Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and Erykah Badu's "Tyrone" rang out from the stage.

SISTAS is a musical exploration not only through decades of African-American, female-artist hits, but through strong personal histories and realities of African American history. If you enjoy theatre that makes you think, while also wrapping you up in a big group hug of strength and soul, then SISTAS is the show for you.

The Ensemble Theatre opened SISTAS on June 28th and will run through July 29th. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with ticket prices starting at $44. Please visit ensemblehouston.com or call 713.520.0055 for more information.

Related Articles View More Houston Stories   Shows








From This Author Audrey Morabito

Before you go...

Like Us On Facebook
Follow Us On Twitter
Follow Us On Instagram
   



  SHARE