Ford’s Theatre’s roof is raised by the gospel of ‘Shout Sister Shout!’

Ford’s Theatre’s roof is raised by the gospel of ‘Shout Sister Shout!’


When it sings, “Shout Sister Shout!,” dramatist Cheryl L. West’s no-frills portrait of gospel feeling Sister Rosetta Tharpe, is all thrills. The charge arrives most electrifyingly from the evening’s star, Carrie Compere, who dedicates body and soul to the tale of a singer anguished by conflicting loyalties to her audio, her mother and her maker.

Hers is not the lone voice of distinction in this roof-raising output at Ford’s Theatre, directed by Kenneth L. Roberson with an assist from Sheldon Epps. The other essential performers of “Shout Sister Shout!” — Carol Dennis as Rosetta’s mom Felicia Boswell as her lover and Kelli Blackwell as her level of competition, Mahalia Jackson — all permit loose with group-satisfying belts.

The exhibit follows the battle, flight and uphill climb of Tharpe, whose live performance and recording profession, segueing from gospel to swing to R&B, were influences on Elvis Presley, Very little Richard and a passel of other rock-and-rollers. To make her mark, according to West’s script (based on Gayle F. Wald’s biography), Tharpe experienced to liberate herself from an abusive preacher husband (Sinclair Mitchell) and a God-fearing mom who shamed her for straying from the church.

Some of the elements of this bio-musical — 20 music powerful — are the typical-challenge steppingstones of an overworked style. A distinguishing mark in Tharpe’s story, nevertheless, is the fortitude she was in a position to muster, rising up in a suffocating environment and nonetheless obtaining a way to escape and formulate her possess design and style. The opposition of authority figures, the overcoming of self-question, the wrestle to forge an identification as a crossover artist: All participate in their roles in Tharpe’s increase to stardom in the 1930s and ’40s.

Backed by an eight-member orchestra conducted by Victor Simonson, Compere and Dennis’s Bible-thumping Bell divvy up the bulk of the blues and religious numbers, reminding us once again and yet again how vast a room Black musicianship occupies in America’s musical heritage. Which is a deserving concept, specially with regard to a star whose renown has receded. The musical reaffirms the actuality that performers these types of as Tharpe and many others far more well known — Jackson and Muddy Waters and Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie and Taxi Calloway and on and on — kind the accurate backbone of the nation’s musical id.

“Anyone singing gospel with a blues guitar ain’t singing for the Lord, if you ask me,” Blackwell’s Jackson irritably observes, as Tharpe makes an attempt to out-sing her in a joint concert wherever they both do amazing justice to “I’m Heading to Are living the Existence I Sing About.” Lovers of Tharpe may possibly be let down by how skimpily her guitar expertise are uncovered in the show. But that Jackson just can’t acknowledge the position Tharpe and her instrument-strumming participate in in propelling gospel towards the mainstream tells us a thing about the trailblazing scale of her eyesight.

Compere escorts us by way of the a long time of Tharpe’s evolution, ending in 1973, when, confined to a wheelchair, she died in Philadelphia at age 58. Along the way, she collected and discarded husbands in what the musical implies were sad or arranged marriages, including her 3rd marriage, performed in a D.C. stadium right before hundreds it portrays the authentic like of her lifestyle as Boswell’s touring co-star Knight. They share two stirring Act 2 quantities, Tharpe’s have “That’s All” and their collaboration, “Didn’t It Rain?” The show’s other highlights incorporate versions of “On My Way,” “The Lonesome Road” and “Rock Me.”

The lesbian romance’s result on Tharpe’s mom contributes to the most advanced psychological factor of “Shout Sister Shout!” The up-and-down cycle of passion and disapproval that Dennis’s Bell expresses for her daughter shifts from scene to scene. Wrestling with its nuances is challenging for a musical, primarily as the marriage is tangled up in religion, sexuality and the aspirational limits imposed on Black women of all ages. Continue to, 1 needs the strategy of the mother as a guilt-inducing roadblock could have been delved into with additional subtlety.

The present could also benefit from a extra arresting visible structure. Tim Mackabee’s two-tiered established areas the orchestra at a penthouse stage and significantly of the motion beneath, on a stage framed on a few sides by bland, louvered doorways that seem to have been purchased out of a California Closets catalogue. Costume designer Alejo Vietti, on the other hand, creates seems to be for the performers aptly redolent of demonstrate company in mid-century The united states.

The proceedings are gracefully anchored by Compere, with amazing helps from Dennis and Boswell not frequently do you hear the voices of so numerous powerhouse girls on a single stage. A hard-functioning ensemble warrants mention, also, as it conjures areas these types of as the Cotton Club and illustrates swing and other dance designs ably staged by choreographer William Carlos Angulo.

The results of “Shout Sister Shout!,” even though, is chiefly in its scaling the large notes in the job of a female who grew to become acknowledged each as the Swinging Gospel Queen and the Godmother of Rock-and-Roll — and in Compere’s charismatic seizure of her crown.

Shout Sister Shout!, by Cheryl L. West. Directed by Kenneth L. Roberson. Output supervised by Sheldon Epps. Choreography, William Carlos Angulo established, Tim Mackabee costumes, Alejo Vietti lighting, Alan C. Edwards sound, Sunlight Hee Kil. With David Rowen, Joseph Anthony Byrd. About 2 hrs, 20 minutes. Through Could 13 at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th St. NW.