Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe was already planning a revamped reprise to its show Love Sung in the Key of Aretha for later this season when the sad news came that music legend Aretha Franklin had died. It didn’t seem enough to wait until later this spring to honor her; someone so important to the music scene for the past 60 years deserved more, now.
Fortunately, putting together a salute to the late great Queen of Soul, spotlighting her songs ranging from gospel to R&B to rock, is right in the WBTT wheelhouse. And, also fortunately, artistic director Nate Jacobs had not one but two female singers he could bring to the stage who could deliver Aretha’s hits as they should be delivered: his real-life daughter, Naarai Jacobs, and his “theater daughter,” as he calls her, Teresa Stanley. Both have experience far beyond Sarasota (Stanley on Broadway, Jacobs onstage with the likes of David Foster and Beyonce), and both clearly respond to the songs—and the persona—of Aretha.
So in Salute to the Queen: a Tribute to Aretha Franklin, a short-run show directed by Jacobs (Nate, that is), the two singers (supported by backups Nate, Samone Hicks and Ariel Blue and a fine band led by Robert Henderson) take us through the musical journey of Aretha’s life, from her gospel roots to her entrance into secular music. If you snag a ticket to the show (technically its run through Saturday, Sept. 15, is sold out, but you can try), it’s likely it will remind you of your own journey through the past few decades as well.
It will also remind you how Aretha’s innate talent for making a song her own worked its magic on compositions by everyone from Paul Simon (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”) to Burt Bacharach (“I Say A Little Prayer for You”) to Stevie Wonder (“Until You Come Back to Me”) to her own writing, on “Dr. Feelgood” and “Rock Steady.” Once you heard a song from Aretha, hearing it from anyone else just seemed—unimportant.
Jacobs and Stanley are both impressive in their stage presence and in how they’re attuned to Franklin’s impassioned, soulful style. From wronged woman on “Drown in My Own Tears” (Naarai) to fulfilled one (also Naarai, on “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”), from sultry (“Dr. Feelgood”) to imperative (“Think”), both scorchers from Stanley, to thoughtful (“Young, Gifted and Black”), where they both sing, they have the audience in the palm of their hands. And naturally the audience gets into the act, too, clapping and swaying to “Chain of Fools” and standing for the evening’s closer—what else but Franklin’s anthemic version of Otis Redding’s “Respect.”
A little bit of biographical info is included in the show, along with album cover images and a few clips of Aretha. One of these, her delivery of “Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center honors for Carole King just a few years ago, not only brings down the house but brings a tear or two to the eye. She was still incomparable.
Salute to the Queen continues, again, only through Saturday; to see if any tickets are available, call 366-1505.