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Review: A NIGHT WITH THE RUSSELLS at Taproot Theatre

Review: A NIGHT WITH THE RUSSELLS at Taproot Theatre

Extended through October 29th

The air is electric. The room is filled with smiles, greetings, hugs, and a huge amount of anticipation. From bated breath to roaring cheers, the audience welcomed the Russells onto the stage. The stories and songs shared by Faith Bennett Russell, Be Russell, and Sarah Russell turned the evening from a night at the theater into a lovefest. It was magical. It was cathartic. It was the missing piece that finally made us whole.

Taproot's Artistic Director, Karen Lund, introduced the night as a show that was decades in the making. The show includes nineteen carefully curated songs from musical theater, pop music, and American and Caribbean spirituals. The Russells blend their voices into beautiful three-part harmonies and take turns on lead vocals. Each Russell gets their chance to shine with individual numbers that are special to their own life story. Sarah Russell's rendition of "Astonishing" from Little Women took the song to a new place. It was no longer Jo March's story, but her own journey of self-discovery that beckoned the little girl in us all to believe in our special kind of magic. Be Russell commanded the stage and entranced us with every sardonic lift of the eyebrow. Her most powerful moments came in challenges. She revealed with great honesty how hard the hard times can really be in "As Easy as Life" from Aida. Then dared the world to deny her anything with a powerful "Defying Gravity" from Wicked. In a night full of highlights, the most touching moment to me was Faith Bennett Russell's poignant performance of "Music in the Mirror" from A Chorus Line. She celebrated the part of her that will always be a dancer, and we all all the better for it. It was clear that the Russell are through playing the by the rules of someone else's game.

It was evident that the Russells had a strong hand in shaping the entire show. Their style and flair was reflected in choices made by the artistic team. Director and Choreographer Jimmy Shields gave them freedom to tell their stories while helping them shape it into a cohesive concert that breathed beautiful quiet moments into the mix of powerhouse numbers. Scenic Designer Parmida Zaiei gave them a three-tiered stage that allowed them to perform together, move into intimate vignettes, and all be seen clearly. Costumer Andi Alhadeff must have felt like she had died and gone to costuming heaven being able to create such amazing pieces from stylized denim jackets with a painted portrait on back, to sequined and bedazzled dresses, to princess dresses, to the brightly colored and patterned pieces inspired from Faith's Jamaican heritage. The best part was you could tell how wonderful each piece made the Russell women feel. And Aaron Norman as Music Director helped the Russell take some very well-known music and make it their own. With stylistic choices, added harmonies, and some killer riffs, Norman helped shape these songs to be part of their story instead of mimicking the way we are used to hearing them sung.

Review: A NIGHT WITH THE RUSSELLS at Taproot Theatre
Faith Bennett Russell, Be Russell, and Sarah
Russell perform in A Night with the Russells
At Taproot Theatre. Photo Credit: Robert Wade

With song and narration, the Russells wove a night of music into a tapestry of storytelling with each song pulling a thread from their past to make something new. It felt like a giant patchwork quilt that was made with great care and love and then used to wrap us in a shared experience of remembrance and triumph. They did not shy away from the hard times, the struggles, and challenges they have faced but rather embraced them as part of what has made them who they are today. We often hear talk of shattering glass ceilings. With their concert of storytelling, the Russells seek to not only bust through the ceiling, but also obliterate the walls that have so often confined them and tried to define them. In their pursuit of artistic freedom, we are all invited to let go boxes and labels and other people's opinions and anything that has ever held us back from being our genuine, authentic selves. The Russells are paving the way for artists of all ethnicities, sizes, ages, gender identities, to stake their right to tell their own stories, to take up space, and to be celebrated. Taproot has produced a show that allows the Russells to share their story, and the Russells have taken this opportunity to make us all feel like welcomed and honored guests at their table where no good music goes to waste.

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