An old song has a funny way of jarring one’s memory. Details of significant life events may fade over the decades, but all it takes is a tune from yesteryear to bring one back to a specific moment in time, or to one long-forgotten life experience.
This is the appeal of the high-energy musical, Respect: A Musical Journey of Women, currently enjoying a run at the Lyceum Theatre in downtown San Diego. Its concept is simple, yet powerful: the history of women in the 20th Century is brought to life through the popular songs representing each era. Excerpts from some 60 songs spanning the decades, combined with a masterful script, tell the story of the tumultuous journey of woman as they struggle to gain their rights and personal freedom.
Any production, no matter how well-written, is only as successful as its cast, and this is where the San Diego production shines. An incredibly talented cast of four San Diego performers (Leigh Scarritt, Nancy Snow Carr, Lisa H. Payton and Kelsey Venter) backed by an equally stellar 5-piece band, brought this musical to life from the moment they stepped on stage.
The vocalists not only performed with style and energy during their solo numbers, but joined in masterful harmony on several songs throughout the evening. Their perfectly-executed rendition of George Gershwin’s classic, Someone to Watch Over Me, at the onset of the show promised musical excellence ahead. Not once during the two hour run time (and one hundred musical years) the production covered, did this exceptional cast disappoint.
The audience was propelled through a variety of emotions throughout the evening as the script and song selection went from the frivolous (a Betty Boop version of I Wanna Be Loved By You portraying the ‘20s), to the comedic (It’s Howdy Doody Time and Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend in a humorous look back on the ‘50s), to the historic (Over There and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy in a ‘40s WWII salute), to the painful (God Bless the Child and Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around in a soul-stirring commentary on the struggle for civil rights in the ‘50s and 60s).
Women’s dependence upon men through the decades was brought to light with songs such as As Long as He Needs Me and I Will Follow Him.
Not only did the cast’s vocal talents hit perfection, their acting and comedic abilities made for some unforgettable moments throughout the evening. Kelsey Venter had the audience in stitches with her rendition of the classic Vicky Carr tune, “It Must Be Him.” Poised in front of a giant red telephone, Kelsey portrays the anguish of a young woman in the ‘60s who (without the aid of modern conveniences such as cell phone, voice mail and text messaging) awaits a call from “him” --that never comes. In another side-splitting routine, Kelsey belts out the Nancy Sinatra classic, These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ , as white boots fall out of the sky to be donned by the rest of the cast as they join her in a poetic “stomp” on male dominance.
The production culminates in a rousing version of I Will Survive, a celebration of the resilience of womanhood in overcoming the trials and tribulations of a century—a rendition which brought the entire audience to their feet in joyous applause and a standing ovation.
This evocative musical is the brainchild of Columbia University professor Dr. Dorothy Marcic, who spent years researching the Top-40 songs of each decade since 1900 in her quest to tell the whole story of women in the 20th century. The show was developed into a full-scale musical theatre production in 2004 and has since played in major venues across the nation and internationally.
The outstanding San Diego production has certainly garnered this reviewer’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T!
For more information, visit respectamusicaljourney.com