By ROY BERKO
When Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s name appeared on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot, there were many who thought, Sister who? Little did those not familiar with the history of the genre, know that “she was wailing on the guitar before Chuck Berry, shouting call and response before Little Richard, and swaying rhythmically to the music long before Elvis shook his hips.” In fact, Elvis may have learned his slim hip swiveling from the Sister Rosetta’s pelvis thrusts.
For the uninformed, the swinging gospel music and fierce guitar playing Sister Rosetta was a 1930s and 1940s veritable legend who sang gospel music in the morning and performed swing music for the white audiences at the famous Cotton Club in New York’s Harlem. She justly deserved her selection to this year’s Rock and Roll Museum class as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest icons.
Cleveland Heights’ award winning playwright, George Brant’s Marie and Rosetta, now on stage at Cleveland Play House, takes us to 1946 Mississippi where Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Miche Braden) has “plucked prim and proper Marie Knight (Chaz Hodges) from a small-time quartet to join her comeback tour.”
d dynamic movements.
Chaz Hodges (Marie Knight) doesn’t play her instrument either (her alter-ego is Katreese Barnes, who is off-stage playing a mean piano), adding to the pseudo musical effect of really talented people portraying, rather than being the performers. One must wonder why, with the vast number of talented performers available in this country, the casting directors couldn’t find two actresses who can fulfil the total requirements of the roles.
In addition, though Miche Braden is a wonderful actress and singer, Miss Knight had some vocal issues on opening night, though she was believable in her acting.
Brandt pulls an abrupt plot switch near the end of the play, which brings the tale to a conclusion, but the transition into that ending was so rapid, it may have slipped past the awareness of the viewer and somewhat leaves the ending unnerving. (No more here…it would be unfair to future viewers to reveal the conclusion.)
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: George Brant’s Marie and Rosetta exposes the personality and vast talent of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, which is a service to the woman and a public which may have been unaware of her effect on the music industry. Though the play is interesting, and the music is dynamic, it is also a little static in language and staging.
Marie and Rosetta runs through February 11, 2018 at the Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or click here.