A Tribute Fit for a Queen

Review: SWEENEY TODD at Signature Theatre

Sometimes, less is more.

The national tour of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. - A Celebration of the Music of Aretha Franklin is a tribute fit for The Queen of Soul. It stopped at Capital One Hall on March 22nd, with a lean and streamlined review that made music the priority.

RESPECT showcases the musical highlights of a career spanning seven decades, and genres that included gospel, soul, R&B, pop, jazz, and even opera. Along the way, it sprinkles in a few of Franklin's contemporaries, like Stevie Wonder and Sam Cooke.

Review: SWEENEY TODD at Signature Theatre
The musicans of R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Photo © Julia Drummond 2022.

The production is a musical revue, presented by four musical "hosts" - YahZarah, Meghan Dawson, Terrell Foster-James, and Chela Faulkner, and backed by a tight, polished five-piece band: keyboard players Billy White and Michael Williams, drummer TJ Griffin, guitarist Kenneth "Gypsy" Simpson, and bassist Osei Kweku. The nine musicians comprise the entire cast of the show, and they are uniformly excellent - each brings unique talents to the show, and together they form a cohesive unit that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The show covers a lot of the hits in Franklin's catalog: Chain of Fools, Natural Woman, I Say a Little Prayer, Day Dreaming , Think, Freeway of Love, I Knew You Were Waiting For Me, and some of the best of her contemporaries, like Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come (delivered beautifully by Foster-James), Bridge Over Troubled Waters, and The Weight.

Along with some lighthearted banter, the hosts provide brief timeline commentary and historical context to set the mood for each song. Choreography is minimal, taking advantage of a simple, elegant stage, with multiple levels and staircases that allow for a wide variety of entrances, exits, and formation. A large upper platform, with "RESPECT" spelled out in white, 4-foot high, lighted letters give the production a classic, "old school" feel. A single video screen accents the historical timeline, and ads to the overall feel of show. The performance is delivered with a lot of energy, and the musicians treat the material with a great deal of respect and reverence.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. is two hours of pure musical entertainment, with the power of Franklin's music (along with the encouragement of the musicians) leading to a lot of dancing in the seats. The show is currently on a national tour, with East Coast dates through April. For more information and tour dates click here.


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