Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Marie and Rosetta

The Atlantic Theater Company and Neil Pepe have created a near pitch perfect, smart, toe-tapping, bio-play about a less well known musician who is often coined the original soul sister.  She was among the first to merge gospel music and rock & roll.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Kecia Lewis) as a sassy, street-smart, music and fun loving gospel singer who saw an opportunity bring it out of the church into the mainstream.  As often happens, the church people were not happy about her worldly presentation.  And the world was not always happy with her churchy style.  She fought it all, morphed when she needed, and like many before and after her was taken advantage of, lived the high life, and died penniless.

Marie Knight (Rebecca Naomi Jones) was the young girl she picked out of an audition because she had "something" in her eye that just struck Rosetta as something she could work with.  Together the two bantered about religion, taking things too far, and style and created a sound the world embraced, sending them to stardom on stage and in the recording studio for a while.

The show takes place at the beginning, in the basement of a funeral home in 1946 Mississippi where the colored people stayed so not as to dare taunt the while people in the town they were passing thru on tour. Rosetta is donned in her favorite and fabulous while glittery dress which matches her vocal style - blow the roof off the house - is what what comes to mind.  Marie is much more demure and lady like but she's got the bug to perform and break out.   The two of them spend about 90 minutes taking you down the memory lane of how their relationship developed.

In might have given this show at 10 out of 10 if the actors actually played the guitar and piano.  The piano was more difficult to tell as it was cleverly turned around so we could not see the keys, but an actor air-strumming a guitar is quite noticeable.  However, the two actual musicians are credited in the playbill (Felicia Collins and Deah Harriott) were superb!

In an incredibly surprising and clever twist at the end - we fast forward.  Touching, tender, and a complete closure to the trajectory of the story which bring it all back to the beginning and suddenly every little detail in the beginning now makes sense.