Rockin’ and Rollin’ with Sister Rosetta

Review of Shout Sister Shout! at Seattle Rep.

Written by Franklin High School student, Ngoc-Linh Truong.

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Johnny Cash? Elvis? You may have heard of those names when thinking about rock and roll, but what about Sister Rosetta Tharpe? If you didn’t know, she was a black woman who many called “the Godmother of rock and roll”. In Shout Sister Shout!, from director Randy Johnson, a tornado of sounds and colors flew through the theater as we follow Sister Rosetta from her juvenescence to her final years.

Despite her illustrious career, Rosetta faced lifelong obstacles offstage. “Devil’s music” was what her mom called it. Rosetta, played by Carrie Compere, started out as a young girl performing at church before leaving for New York City. Her mother (Carol Dennis) disapproved of the new music that Rosetta was playing. Their meeting in New York City was the beginning of a difficult relationship in the upcoming years. Her lovers, from her first controlling husband to the singer, Marie Knight, were also unsteady. Career and love clashed in Rosetta’s personal life, where reality eventually sets in. Her church, a place where Rosetta started performing, didn’t accept her because of her new music. These stories from different parts of her life are weaved between the bright lights and energetic singing, playing a quieter role that captured Rosetta’s loneliness as an artist.

Compere is able to portray Rosetta as young and naïve, who transitions to an independent woman will a powerful aura. Her singing was incredible and that was a big part of the show. Other cast members shifted around as different people in Rosetta’s life and they played it convincingly. Joseph Anthony Byrd, in particular, stood out from his mannerisms and movement to his talking and singing. He made a small character feel so much more alive and fun. Performances given by the cast was amazing and succeeded in getting the audience to move and clap along to the music.

The show is highlighted through all the colors of the rainbow, bright costumes, and bangin’ music. The actors’ voices boomed throughout the theater as they sang and danced, no matter the mood. Bright lights shone in the adrenaline rushed scenes, and pale cool lights fade in the background in heavier moods. As a naïve youth, Rosetta wore solid color outfits, the ones that would blend in the background. As she rose to stardom, those colors became a distant memory. It was glitter and bedazzled clothes that sat on her skin. From the scenes between Rosetta and her mother to Rosetta’s arrival at the Cotton Club, the cast sang their heart out. The emotions in their voice traveled from the words that left on stage to the audience.

Ultimately, Shout Sister Shout! spotlights Sister Rosetta’s most glorious years as a black woman in America, singing and playing the electric guitar. It’s a disco ball, shining colors that represented her highest moments to her personal troubles. But it also shines light on Sister Rosetta herself, who impacted the industry and influenced so many artists that came after her. Shout Sister Shout! is a production that deserves to be seen and listened to because it’s totally worth it.

Lead photo credit: The cast of Shout Sister Shout!. Photo by Bronwen Houck.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This review was written as part of an Arts Criticism 101 workshop at Franklin High School in Ms. Geffner's 11th grade Language Arts classes, taught by Press Corps teaching artist Jasmine Mahmoud.

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