Produced by: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Directed by: Robert Kelley
Featuring: Michelle E. Jordan as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Marissa Rudd as Marie Knight
When: March 6-31, 2019. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays; 7 p.m. Sundays.
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Tickets: $40-$100 (savings available for educators, seniors, active military, and patrons 35 and under). Visit theatreworks.org or call 650-463-1960.
"Didn't It Rain"
"Up Above My Head"
Marie Knight and Sister Rosetta Tharpe
to two brilliant performers
“Marie and Rosetta,” by playwright George Brant, has come back to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, where it was developed during the 2015 New Works Festival.
Since then, the play has run in New York and elsewhere around the nation, receiving, for the most part, rave reviews.
“I could well make this a one-word review: Wow,” said John Stoltenberg in DC Metro. “After the sensational opening of ‘Marie and Rosetta’ at Mosaic last night, wow was the first word I heard from everyone I talked to, and wow was the first word on my lips as well.”
“Marie and Rosetta” is partly the story of the amazing Rosetta Tharpe, a child prodigy who was wowing audiences in 1921 as a singer and guitarist, at the age of 6. She began in gospel music and always came back to it, although she had some success in secular music as well.
She basically invented the use of electric guitar in rock music, and while for some time mainstream audiences hadn’t heard of her, dozens of major guitar players and singers, from Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley to Alison Krauss and Robert Plant , have cited her as an influence and/or covered her songs.
She was a powerful performer with a commanding, charismatic stage presence, a powerful voice, and amazing guitar licks.
The other part of the play is Marie Knight, a beautiful, younger gospel singer Rosetta heard, then invited to tour with her. The two of them were hugely popular on the gospel circuit for years, in the 1940s.
“Marie and Rosetta” is a story of their relationship and what they experienced.
And it opens with the two women preparing to spend the night sleeping in or around the coffins in a funeral home, because they were touring in a part of the American south where black people weren’t welcome in hotels.
Michelle E. Jordan, who plays Sister Rosetta in the production at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, has a lot in common with the character she plays: She has a fabulous, strong voice, has
performed blues and gospel music on lots of stages, is actually a minister in a church, and is a black person in the United States.
“There have been engagements I was hired for to pay tribute or celebrate music that is labeled blues,” Jordan said carefully during a phone interview. “Sister Rosetta’s music crossed my path. I sang music by B.B. King, others of that nature.
“My deepest experience with Rosetta Tharpe is this piece. I parallel with her in my personal life, as a minister and a seeker of truth, and the calling in my life to bring joy to those in my orbit. Sister Rosetta was all about bringing the celebration of life to the listener. By singing, by bringing joy with her guitar and her singing.”
But that business of Rosetta and Marie having to sleep in a funeral home?
“It is sad to revisit, for me, because of the time, and the conditions of those times. In some respects, we’re seeing them revisited now. I don’t have to go through the back door, but sometime it feels like that,” she said, speaking of the rise of racism in this nation over the last few years.
“It’s always been here,” she said, “however, our chief (President Trump) has given permission for acts of violence and disrespect to be acceptable.
“I do believe that it’s important for all of us ... to have conversations on white privilege, and introspection on where and how we hold on that issue. I lived through it once all ready, and here we are again. I think I’ve been able to allow music to protect me in some respects to keep me from feeling ramifications of it, but it’s still there. ...
“The only way I would be stopped is by my own thoughts ... I think that I have done enough meditation and prayer work,” Jordan said. “I walk around the world like I own it, like my daughter says about me.”