Review by Tony Bohn
Seattle Rep’s new production titled Shout Sister Shout! is a stunning portrayal and portrait of the life of “Original Soul Sister” and “Godmother of Rock and Roll,” Sister Rosetta Tharpe. A pioneer in the music industry, she is known as the first gospel recording star and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. Her blending of gospel, jazz, blues, R&B, and soul combined with her masterful guitar skills helped her set the foundation for rock and roll, and countless future rock stars including Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
The show takes you through her life from her years as a teenager all the way to her final days. It touches on her complex but loving relationship with her mother, her tumultuous relationships with her husbands, and her great love affair with fellow musician, Marie Knight. You get to see her courageous rise to stardom as she navigates her way through the exploitative music industry while also battling the stigma and shunning she received from her church and her gospel roots which considered her new mainstream sound to be “the devil’s music.” She performs at the legendary Cotton Club in NYC, and the production features guest appearances from other big names such as Little Richard, Mahalia Jackson, Cab Calloway, and Dizzy Gillespie.
The set, costuming, and lighting are all bright and colorful exuding the celebratory quality of the show. Carrie Compere as Sister Rosetta Tharpe is just phenomenal, and the almost entirely African American cast shines with powerful pitch-perfect vocals, energetic dancing, and endearing performances. Perhaps the best part is the music itself. Getting a chance to discover Sister Tharpe’s fabulous catalog of work moved me spiritually and had me swaying and bopping in my seat.
The historical and cultural importance of Sister Rosetta Tharpe as the first black female queer gospel star and her impact on the music industry is not to be understated. Shout Sister Shout! touches on all these themes of her life and the struggles she faced. This powerful production lands in my top ten (maybe even top five) favorite local theater productions I’ve seen in Seattle. You must go check this out! Shout Sister Shout! runs at Seattle Rep now until December 22, 2019. For more information and tickets, please check out their website here.
Photo by Bronwen Houck