Long before the great female rocker Janis Joplin came on the scene, there was a lady named, Rosetta Tharpe, a gospel singer born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas in 1915. Miss Tharpe was gospel’s first superstar and the preeminent crossover figure of its “golden age.” Her incredible skill and rhythmic showmanship left lasting impression on artists like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Johnny Cash.
When ‘Shout Sister Shout’ opens, we meet Sister Rosetta Tharpe (the wonderfully talented Tracy Nicole Chapman). The year is 1973 and Rosetta has died from a stroke. She is waiting to pass through the pearly gates, but is sent back by God to help a struggling young rocker, Isaiah (Logan Charles) who is thinking about killing himself.
Rosetta takes Isaiah on a trip through her life, starting at the age of four when she first picked up a guitar and sang at the church her mother (Yvette Cason) attended. It’s here that we get to experience her incredible range and her undeniable soul. We also get to meet the men in Rosetta’s life that continued to disappoint her, starting with her first husband, Reverend Thorpe (Michael A. Shepherd), who winds up hitting her. This leads Rosetta to New York City and the famous Cotton Club, where she started the crossover from Gospel to Rock. She soon signed with Decca Records, became quite successful and eventually performed at Carnegie Hall.
“Shout Sister Shout,” directed by Randy Johnson (‘A Night With Janis’), and written by Cheryl L. West, is filled with rousing vocal numbers, and a great supporting cast makes this a fun and rousing musical.
However, the show is not perfect by any means. We get glimpses into Rosetta’s life, including her lesbian affair with Marie Knight (Angela Teek Hitchman), who she meets while on tour with Mahalia Jackson, but it never gets very deep. Things just happen with no connecting thread. In the end though, it’s all about the music and that makes the production worthy of a trip to the Pasadena Playhouse.
‘Shout Sister Shout’ opened on July 30th and plays; 8pm. Wednesdays; Fridays, 4 and 8pm, Saturdays 2 and 7pm and Sundays; and ends August 20th. Tickets: $25-$115. To purchase go to www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org or call 626-356-7529. The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena CA