Tell the whole world what it’s all about”…Sister Rosetta TharpeI recently saw the Pasadena Playhouse production “Shout Sister Shout” about the Gospel great Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She was not only an amazing vocalist she, but she was also a skillfully cutting edge and influential guitarist.
Known as the Godmother of rock, her ﬂ amboyant style inspired such music greats as Chuck Berry, Etta James, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Louis, Elvis Presley, Pete Townsend, Isaac Hayes and Bonnie Raitt, to name a few. For myself, as a budding musician, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was one of the top 5 list guitarist I studied. I even recorded my own version of her classic, “This Train”.
The production of “Shout Sister Shout” was a grand spectacle. The acting was superb, the singing was great, and the band was amazingly tight. (Maybe a little too tight. But I get it. It was a musical production and not real church.)
As for the story, it really fell ﬂat. The storyline included a character named Isaiah, for whom I felt was a big distraction to the storyline. The idea being that Before Sister Rosetta could enter the gates of heaven, God commands that she is to help out this depressed white kid, Isaiah, who is contemplating ending his life. So, Rosetta takes Isaiah on a journey through her life to show him….well I don’t know.
It was kind of awkward. Think “A Christmas Carol” in reverse. Basically you have this 1940s music Icon giving life lessons to this 1990s wannabe singer songwriter dude, so she can get into heaven. The story could have been as much about Isaiah as it was about Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Also actress Tracy Nicole Chapman did a good job playing Sister Rosetta Tharpe the person, but was very disappointing as Sister Rosetta Tharpe the guitar shredding, hard rocking, sanctiﬁed soulful musician. It was her guitar style that made her the ﬁ rst rock star. That’s really something I really wanted to see. Maybe a little rewrite here and there. If you decide to see this production, which I do recommend, do yourself a favor and ﬁrst check out the Sister Rosetta Tharpe documentary on YouTube. That way you can get her full uninterrupted story. The Play runs through August 26. For tickets contact: pasadenaplayhouse.org.