BWW Review: Get Ready to Raise the Roof with Seattle Rep's SHOUT SISTER SHOUT!
Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Have you heard of her? Maybe not (I know I hadn't before last night). But even if you're unfamiliar with her, you're more than likely familiar with one of the many artists she's influenced. Artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Little Richard to name just a few. But that's kind of the point of the show, "Shout Sister Shout!", currently playing at the Seattle Rep. A show that tells the story of the "Godmother of Rock n' Roll", and how we need to recognize these artists that have been whitewashed and mansplained from history. But even beyond that, you want to catch this for the insanely powerful performance of Carrie Compere as Tharpe, who will have you rockin' in your seat as she tears the roof off the Rep.
Based on the biography by Gayle F. Wald, Cheryl L. West's show examines the life of this trail blazer from her humble beginnings singing with her mother, Katie Bell Nubin (Carol Dennis), in her church revivals, to her rise to stardom in the 30's and 40's only to be forgotten. Her fascinating story is only outdone by her incredible talent vocally and on the guitar, making this bio-musical so much more than a jukebox show. It's a deep dive into a history that deserves to be remembered.
Director Randy Johnson, along with Music Director Sheilah V. Walker and Choreographer William Carlos Angulo, keep the pace and the music going leaving never a dull moment. Even things as simple as a costume change for Compere are practically turned into a dance to outstanding effect. And speaking of the costumes, Costume Designer Emilio Sosa has crafted some gorgeous pieces that completely sell the era and style and when coupled with Robert Wierzel's lighting design, the result is stunning.
But it all comes down to the performances and this ensemble is more than up to the task. Allison Semmes as Tharpe's singing partner, Marie Knight, brings in some outstanding vocals as well as a few truly heartbreaking moments. Dennis as Tharpe's mother is a force of nature that cannot be ignored and her chemistry with Compere is riveting. And I must mention Joseph Anthony Byrd, Chaz Rose, Timothy Ware, and Christin Byrdsong who, in addition to bringing in multiple other amazing characters, wowed near the top of the show as the Praise Brothers.
But this is a show about Sister Rosetta Tharpe so we must talk of the glory that is Compere. Seattle audiences may remember her from the recent touring revival of "The Color Purple" where she brought the Paramount down as Sofia. I know I do. And if you remember that you know the kind of chops she has. Now take that, add in some outstanding guitar playing and barely let her leave stage and you have the tour de force that is her performance in "Shout Sister Shout!". Her vocal stamina is from the theater Gods, not only letting loose some soul chilling notes and belts but doing it quite consistently for a two and a half hour show. It's an incredible feat. Then mix that with a fantastic story arc where she transforms from diva to shy girl and back again and you have a performance that must be seen.
You must, must, MUST catch this show! And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the Seattle Rep's production of "Shout Sister Shout!" a "please get me the cast album soon" WOW!
I truly can't wait for everyone to experience the story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and by everyone, I mean Broadway.