By Dale King
As the undisputed Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, has sung repeatedly with deep sisterly inspiration, all women want “is a little respect.”
Eight ladies have taken to the stage at the Delray Beach Playhouse this month to “tell it like it is” — the history of women in America, that is, in a finely tuned, thought-provoking and often humorous story of how women have risen from the “barefoot and pregnant” days of the early 20th century to the “I am woman — hear me roar” times of today.
Based on her book, Respect: Women and Popular Music, Dorothy Marcic has created a tune-filled revue called Respect: A Musical Journey of Women that backtracks to the time when the fairer sex depended on men for just about everything — and apparently had to pay the price. The delightfully amusing jukebox revue plays through Feb. 13 at the Delray Beach Playhouse.
Combining excerpts from more than 60 songs — interspersed with women’s personal stories about realizing dreams, loves won and lost and battering glass ceilings, Respect features such period favorites as “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” “As Long As He Needs Me” and “Whatever Lola Wants” along with modern standards such as “Where the Boys Are,” “It Must Be Him,” “The Greatest Love of All,” and “Stand by Your Man.”
Of course, Aretha gets her piece of the action with the finale rendition of “Respect” led by Amanda Gomes, who is joined by the full cast — Spensyr Bach, Sara Hope Tripp, Kelly DiLorenzo, Tricia Sotolongo Mundarain, Jacynth Brown, Lissen Ellington and Rachel O’Hara, who is also dance captain.
Delray Playhouse has significantly reconfigured its stage for this production. Slides depicting historical moments in the women’s movement — from fighting for the vote to fighting against domestic abuse — are shown on a large screen to the rear. At center stage is a ramp that provides a useful tool for the women and their songs. At stage right and left are stair landings high above both sides of the ramp providing performers with a variety of entryways, exits and song locations.
DBP also has amped up its diversity with lots of costume changes — deftly provided by the outfit and props boss, Susan Rose — along with informational interludes and lots of energy. Not to mention a live, five-piece band providing smooth accompaniment.
“The show has changed a lot since it premiered in South Florida in 2003,” said Respect’s director, Suzanne Dunn. “That’s why we’d encourage anyone who’s seen it before to come out and enjoy it again, because it has been updated with different songs and dialogue and will be a new experience.”
“These very talented women, who are well-known throughout the theater community, have such a huge amount of enthusiasm and commitment. The audiences are having a blast taking this trip down memory lane with them.”
While all the music is good, some melodies — particularly in the second act when the cast really loosens up — will stick in the minds of theatergoers on their way out. “At Seventeen,” the angry anthem written and sung by Janis Ian, is a memorable catharsis for the plain girls who never got valentines or return phone calls from suitors. It’s a sad recollection that brings the full cast on stage.
Tripp goes a bit frenetic with the song, “It Must Be Him,” falling over an armchair and flailing on the floor as she grabs for the ringing telephone, hoping it’s the guy of her choice. Impressive job by this young lady who joins Bach and Gomes to lead the full cast in Gloria Gaynor’s tribute to subsistence, “I Will Survive,” and teams with DiLorenzo for both “Que Sera, Sera” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ that Man of Mine.”
Brown and Gomes pull together with excellence and pizzazz as they perform a couple of early jazz tunes, “God Bless the Child” and “Taint Nobody’s Business if I Do.”
Bach is back with a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” A couple of wartime songs — “Over There” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” — bring nearly everyone in the cast for the fore. The tight harmony on “Bugle Boy” is very close to the Andrews Sisters’ style.
The women pay tribute to the contemporary era with a full-cast rendition of Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.” Kelly DiLorenzo solos nicely with Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” and Tripp, Bach, Gomes (in the lead) and Lissen don pastel tutus in a bouncy rendition of Cyndy Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to have Fun.”
The live band — always a plus for such performances — is led by music director/pianist Karen Nagy along with Hunter Isbell on bass, Sandi Hagood on drums, Tom Trinter on woodwinds and Ben Brown coming forward on trumpet and guitars. Jeannie Krouch is the show’s choreographer.
Respect: A Musical Journey of Women plays through Feb. 13 at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th St. in Delray Beach. Tickets are $38 and can be purchased online at delraybeachplayhouse.com, or by phone at 561-272-1281.