Sistas the Musical at Teatro Wego! through February 12
If you want some entertainment this weekend but prefer to avoid Mardi Gras parades, head to JPAS’ Teatro Wego! in Westwego for Sistas the Musical. You won’t catch any beads or cups there, but you’re likely to have a good time.
Set in St. Louis, Sistas introduces us to three Black sisters, the teenage daughter of one, and their white sister-in-law. The five have come to clean out the attic of their recently deceased 92-year-old family matriarch as well as to figure out a song to sing at the next day’s funeral. As they proceed to do so, in Dorothy Marcic’s script, there’s lotsa small talk, some secrets get spilled, and the ladies eventually get the job done.
While lots gets packed into the women’s conversations, from Freedom Riders to hair weaves, the bare-bones plot primarily exists to hang over thirty songs on, from Bessie Smith’s A Good Man is Hard to Find to contemporary numbers by India.Arie, Beyonce´, and Christina Aguilera.
That’s fine as Marcic has endowed her characters’ personalities with only one or two notes each (Elder sister Gloria gets “religious” while white sister-in-law Heather mostly gets “clueless”), and, worse, her oftentimes wooden dialog has a programmatic air to it as one might expect from a white professor at Columbia University which Marcic is.
The book’s shortcomings, however, can be easily overlooked in Kiane D. Davis’ sure-handed, sweet production. Davis, who also choreographed with verve and plays the academic sister Simone, has done an amazing job of keeping her cast’s bodies in motion as they tidy the attic without it ever seeming fussy or arbitrary, no mean feat. She’s also imbued the musical numbers with a suitable flair without ever overdoing it; you believe that these are everyday women (albeit with fabulous voices) singing these songs, not Vegas stars who’ve been plunked down into a St. Louis loft.
Danielle Edinburgh Wilson wisely makes Gloria’s beliefs an essential but never overbearing part of her personality and sings Precious Lord, among other songs, with a voice that has just gotten richer since I first encountered her over a dozen years ago starring in Mahalia! A Gospel Musical, when she was still a student at Xavier University.
Nicole Washington, as Simone’s daughter Tamika, shines in such numbers as Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing and Erykah Badu’s Tyrone, and radiates a natural charisma even when a sullen Simone would rather be with her (no-good) boyfriend than helping with the attic-cleaning chores.
Dour Roberta, the third sister, has an intriguing disposition as an atheist who adores Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday; if one wishes that Marcic had made Roberta more multifaceted, Jacquel Cockerham admirably fills out her contours, and sings such numbers as Taint Nobody’s Business with a warm alto voice.
After her fiery turn as the Dragon in Shrek the Musical last year, it’s no surprise that Davis can electrify a stage but that she does so while maintaining a professorial aura as Simone only makes me eager to see her in more challenging parts (The Amen Corner comes to mind; or how about an all-female version of A Soldier’s Play?). One wishes that Marcic had devised a different persona for Heather, but at least Melissa McKenzie leans in and makes palatable this thankless role.
If, on Sistas’ opening weekend, lines could’ve been picked up faster, when the five actresses came together for a jubilant Motown/1960s medley, complete with silvery outfits, one could just sit back and luxuriate in the joy emanating from the stage.
Scenic Designer Scott Sauber provides an aptly cluttered set while his lighting, which employs both lamps scattered around the attic and computerized multi-hued hanging fixtures, beautifully underscores and enhances the actresses’ ever-shifting emotional landscape.
You may not leave Sistas the Musical with glittered shoes or coconuts, but you’re quite likely to exit with a smile on your face. And isn’t that what the spirit of Mardi Gras–and good theater–is all about?
[For tickets and more information, go to https://www.jpas.org/performance/sistas-the-musical/]
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical at the Saenger Theatre through February 12
Ayvah Johnson from Slidell.
Remember that name. She plays “Young Anna-Mae” in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical and, with her clarion voice and bubbly spirit, thoroughly convinces that this child will grow up to be Tina Turner. I have no idea what the future holds for Ayvah but if some day Ayvah – The Ayvah Johnson Musical runs on Broadway, I wouldn’t be surprised. Let’s hope, though, that Ayvah never has to endure the horrible abuses that Tina did.
As for Tina-TTTM, it’s pretty much a standard bio-musical. Katori Hall’s book tells you little that you can’t glean from reading the multiple Grammy-winning singer’s Wikipedia entry. The first act takes us up to when she left the brutish Ike; it’s interesting but so much is packed in that it can’t help but be rather superficial storytelling and, hence, it offers little visceral emotion. Act Two, as Tina makes her spectacular comeback, is more involving but only in a soap opera-y way.
(Actually, any 10 minutes of Tina, if explored in depth, could probably supply the basis for an engrossing play. Like how did she come to choose the wig that would be her iconic style for the latter half of her career?)
No matter. With over 20 songs, including such mega-hits as Let’s Stay Together, Better Be Good to Me, Private Dancer, and What’s Love Got to Do With It, Tina-TTTM delivers painless entertainment.
As Tina, Naomi Rogers, who alternates in the role with Zurin Villanueva, gave a great performance, singing, acting and dancing up a storm in an incredible display of talent. Still, she’s no Tina Turner. Not only is her voice higher–she lacks the husky quality of a cello that gives Tina her unique timbre–but, hey, there is one and only one Tina Turner.
The rest of the cast are all fine, tho, at times, especially when “Ike” (Garrett Turner, apparently no relation, suitably mean and controlling) or “Tina” is performing it felt like a drag show. An incredibly accomplished one, but a drag show nonetheless.
If you see Tina – The Tina Turner Musical this weekend, as with Sistas, you may not leave with glittered shoes or coconuts, but you’re quite likely to exit with a smile on your face. Let’s just hope the parades have passed by then and you’ll easily be able to make it back home…where you can put on your record or CD of Private Dancer and listen to the real thing.
[For more information and tickets, go to https://www.saengernola.com/shows/tina-the-tina-turner-musical]