Presented by Greater Boston Stage Company in Collaboration with The Front Porch Arts Collective
By George Brant
Directed by Pascale Florestal
Musical Direction by Erica Telisnor
With Lovely Hoffman, Pier Lamia Porter
Oct. 17 – Nov. 10, 2019
Greater Boston Stage Company
395 Main Street
Stoneham, MA 02180
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Review by: Shiyanbade Animashaun
(Stoneham, MA) Marie and Rosetta is a tremendous concert built around a conversation that shares what should be a much more well-known story about the roots of Rock-N-Roll. It takes place on the first rehearsal night for a dynamic musical duo, played and sung by Lovely Hoffman as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Pier Lamia Porter as Marie Knight. The comedic and moving single act conversation has scenic and costume design by Baron E.Pugh and Michelle Villada, which help transport the audience to this moment in time.
Pianist (and Music Director) Erica Telisnor, and guitarist Marquis Lewis provided virtuosic accompaniment. The piano ‘ventriloquism’ proved quite impressive and seamless as Hoffman and Porter mimed.
The actors were meant to match the guitar playing style made famous by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a difficult task while acting and singing. The difference in the actors’ and guitarists hand and finger positioning was visible. Placing the talented musicians in a recessed orchestra pit could have amended this. In a play about a woman called the ‘Godmother of Rock-N-Roll’, it created a disconnect between the story and the storytellers.
At a point well into the third act, the curtains parted as more lights further illuminated the stage. It wasn’t clear if it was to mark the first time Rosetta used an electric guitar. This, the guitar miming, the lack of a hurt reaction from Rosetta when Marie challenged her version of “Rock Me”, and little discussion of Rosetta’s sexuality (something prevalent in her music) were a small distraction to someone familiar with her story. Even so, the bands’ musicality and the actor’s voices ensured that there was more than enough joy to focus on.
The audience and I burst into applause after each uplifting number and rushed to give a standing ovation at the end of the night. Somber instants were also felt as Hoffman and Porter deftly explored darker themes. At a poignant moment, Hoffman looks out at the majority white audience, in character as Rosetta, to recount her feelings about playing in the Cotton Club to a ‘sea of white faces’. This irony was not lost on me and I wondered if others also caught it.
Marie and Rosetta tells an important and engaging story with impressive vocal performances. All through a conversation between two black women who paved a way for modern music. The staging of the musicians didn’t give Rosetta or Marie the full light they deserve. Still, the powerful vocal talents of the leads allows that light to shine through. I hope that light will continue to spread as the play inspires audiences to learn even more about their impact.