WBTT Mixes Moods and Memories with Sistas in the Name of Soul
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe has long succeeded with audiences when it presents revue shows of music from the 1960s and ‘70s, particularly with a soulful edge. That still holds true with the current, socially distanced “Light Up the Night” productions held outdoors in its parking lot during the coronavirus pandemic. Latest case in point: Sistas in the Name of Soul.
There is plenty of soul on display in this one, delivered by four female singers—Ariel Blue, Delores McKenzie, Stephanie Zandra and Syreeta Shonteé—under the direction of artistic director Nate Jacobs and employing all the period hand gestures, poses, struts and more you’d expect from the choreography of Donald Frison. But that doesn’t mean the music you hear is all strictly soul. The show also mixes in hit tunes that are more pop, rock, disco and funk in flavor.
That means songs baby boomers and others old enough will recall fondly, from the likes of (of course) Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Diana Ross to Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Donna Summers and Mavis Staples. There are also some names represented that perhaps spring less readily to mind, although the songs they made popular will definitely ring a bell...as with Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell,” for example. Freda Payne is best remembered for “Band of Gold,” and Jean Knight for her saucy hit, “Mr. Big Stuff.”
Sometimes the ladies onstage take turns in the lead, sometimes they harmonize, and occasionally they solo, as on softer numbers like Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You.” There can’t be many singers with Riperton’s vocal range, but Zandra does well in singing the song movingly.
Speaking of moving, the actresses do a lot of it, especially on signature songs like Summers’ “Bad Girls,” Patti LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” or Turner’s “Proud Mary,” which features Blue giving it her all and will have the audience doing those rolling arm movements for sure. The performers are not afraid to convey plenty of sexual heat on a warm May night, either.
Listeners are bound to have their individual favorite moments, whether it’s Shonteé pouring passion into “Neither One of Us,” Zandra getting spirited on “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love),” the ensemble ripping it up on the Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited,” McKenzie promising “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” or Blue’s emotional “Midnight Train to Georgia.” In all cases, the singers do not imitate the styles of the original vocalists, but they do pay tribute (often by first emphasizing that someone was the “Queen,” “Empress” or “Godmother” of one form of music or another).
The production nicely mixes moods and tempos (under the energetic music direction of Brennan Stylez), and it hits big at the end with a rendition of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” that’s designed to send a gentle message about understanding and acceptance right now.
Sistas in the Name of Soul continues through June 6; for tickets call (941) 366-1505 or visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.