“Respect” - Produced by: Theatre Three– Port Jefferson
Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur
Leave it to Theatre Three in Port Jefferson … when they promise to bring Broadway quality entertainment to the 106-year-old playhouse on Main Street, they always deliver. Currently Mary Powers is at the helm directing “Respect,” Dorothy Marcic’s retrospective of songs that have defined the evolving position of women in American society throughout the past century.
Appropriately, things get underway with “Bird in a Gilded Cage” (my grandmother would have preferred “After the Ball” though she was never allowed to sing it, I’m told) and Lori Beth Belkin does a pretty good job with the lyrical plaint. Jessica Contino lightens things up with a cute rendition of “I Want to be Loved by You,” the boop-boop-a-doop come-on that maintains the show’s theme of female subservience in the early 1900s without engaging in too much self-pity.
Of course no musical genre can generate the precise degree of sympatico that deprived 20th century women deserve, like ‘The Blues’ can. To fill that prerequisite, author Marcic has selected “God Bless the Child,” and in this production, the nearly impossible-to-sing Billie Holliday ballad is assigned to Amanda-Camille. The much more manageable “Body and Soul” would have been a lot easier for Amanda-Camille to croon, while delivering the same message.
The fourth member of the performing quartet (all clad in black blouses, black skirts, and diamond necklaces) is the show’s narrator, Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni. She helps out vocally on some of the earlier tunes, but turns in probably the best performance of Act I with a tender “Que Sera, Sera.”
Logically, the brief second act (the outfits have become black pantsuits) illustrated the arrival of the Liberated Woman with the show’s biggest surprise, the catchy “You Don’t Own Me.”
One can understand why the often impudent and always irreverant Rush Limbaugh invariably used this number as the introduction for his wiseguy shots at the Feminist Movement, wherein he ridiculed some activist statement or other on the part of Helen Reddy, Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem … etc. The few chuckles in the audience when the ‘Respect’ quartet launched into the number, with its interesting changes of key, quickly changed to cheers as the four women interpreted the 1963 Leslie Gore hit single to perfection.
Apart from “You Don’t Own Me” and a nicely choreographed version of Nancy Sinatra’s number one worldwide hit “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” Act II of ‘Respect’ is more frenetic, but considerably less satisfying musically than Act I (where are “Tammy” and “My Man” for instance?).
However, the one consistently magical component of this memorable production is the exquisite background music provided by Steve McCoy (pianist/conductor), Don Larson (drums), and in particular, David Grudzinski who serves up the beautiful bass line flawlessly.
When the final encore had been sung at last weekend’s performance of ‘Respect,’ and the final bows were taken, I scanned the audience to confirm what seemed to be the case … and sure enough … every patron in the sellout crowd was standing, most still applauding, and many were singing.
Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s recently completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, is due next month, and will be introduced at the Smithtown Library on Sunday afternoon, May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com