An Emotional Sing Along

Review of Shout Sister Shout! at Seattle Rep.

Written by Franklin High School student, Julie La.

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Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry are few of the many artists that became famous and overshadowed their influencers. Sister Rosetta Tharpe is considered to be the Godmother of rock ‘n’ roll, but she wasn’t recognized for her contribution until 2018, where she was inducted into the Roll of Fame.

Playwright Cheryl L. West along with director Randy Johnson brought to life, Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s story through the play Shout Sister Shout! at the Seattle Rep. The musical had a powerful and intriguing storyline of an artist whose legacy was forgotten. Sister Rosetta Tharpe's story has many twists and turns. She crossed boundaries and disregarded social and cultural norms of her time. Throughout the play, there were many interactions with the audience. Carrie Compere who played Sister Rosetta Tharpe along with many others, included the audience into the play. They encouraged the audience to clap along and sing along if they knew the lyrics to a song.

Having any type of passion towards something since an early age can potentially influence your future identity. Born as Rosetta Nubin, Tharpe was an African American woman who invented rock and roll. She was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. She became a household name from the years 1930s to 40s.

Tharpe has always had a passion for music and was considered to be a prodigy from age 4. Through her adolescent years, she and her mother performed traditional church music, only later to be shunned by churches for having the audacity to perform in a nightclub and mix gospel music with other genres that were considered to be the devil's music.

Shout Sister Shout! starts out with Tharpe being a shy 18 years old girl who wants to be invisible while playing music. She is willingly being controlled by her mother and soon later abused by her husband. Over the duration of the play, we can see Tharpe becoming more confident and independent in herself. She battled loneliness, multiple failed marriages as well as the fluctuation in show business.

Throughout the show, we can experience many music genres such as gospel, jazz, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and many more. The cast sang many upbeat songs that encouraged the audience’s participation. The placement of the songs were also timed really well. The songs do not interrupt the audience’s understanding of the storyline, rather they pull you into the play itself. Tharpe struggled against controversy within the music community and her religious beliefs.

The best part about this production was the interacts made with the audience by the actors. On multiple occasions, the actors had encouraged the audience to sing along, making the audience feel like they are together with them during specific scenes. By doing so, the play is able to extrude many emotions for the audience to feel. Such as during Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s staged wedding, Compere acted as if the audience was part of the 20,000 fans that were there to witness her wedding. The stage also had a big impact. The stage and the lighting created moods for the audience to feel. When there is a big event that is happening in the play, the huge walls of guitars in the back of the stage opens up. From there, we can witness the live band along with a different stage. The lighting changed based on the mood that the characters were feeling at the time, ie. blue for sadness, yellow for warmth, etc.

Those who had attended the play had said that the live audience interactions had made them feel like they are attending a concert. The actors and audience are able to feed off the energy of each other, making the play seem more wholesome. Overall, this production will keep you on your feet and excited for the many scenes to come. Leaving you feeling euphoric and reflective on the play as well as your everyday life.

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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