Saturday, March 25, 2023
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Marie and Rosetta - Rebecca Naomi Jones & Kecia Lewis legendary women of swinging gospel music

Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for

Tucked away in Chelsea in the 150 seat Linda Gross Theater that arose from a converted church two extremely talented performers Rebecca Naomi Jones as Marie Knight and Kecia Lewis as Sister Rosetta Tharpe reenact their beginnings as a rockin and rollin pop gospel duo in a showroom for coffins where they are having their first rehearsal together in Mississippi 1946.

There was no room at the inn for black folks then. So they rehearse where no one can be bothered. Among empty coffins. Rehearse to sing in warehouses and barns for other black folks who want to hear music bursting with joy.

Sister Rosetta – already a star is on the outs with the Church because she has appeared in clubs. Looking to make a comeback she plucks Marie out of a Quartet as her protégé. She sees something in this naïve young girl. More importantly she hears something. Her voice and her piano playing.

Marie has been a fan. Listening to Sister Rosetta’s recordings and cannot believe her good luck.

In a rather surface telling of their similar backstories by George Brant they test their musical comradery and at times it’s difficult to believe how they harmonize so beautifully – in the moment. The songs are the show. The performers make the songs.

They have a beautiful rapport. The powerful voiced and confident Sister Rosetta and the shy wide eyed too serious Marie who voice is clearly a gift from above. As her confidence grows, she surprises even herself in the music they make together allowing Sister Rosetta to teach her how to loosen up and put a bit of boogie into her life.

Tucked away behind a scrim are two equally talented musicians Felicia Collins (Guitar) and Deah Harriott (Piano) who will play for the aforementioned Marie and Sister Rosetta as they mime the music (on piano and guitar) to the songs they so expertly sing.

Sometimes softly. Sometimes loud enough to raise the dead. It’s a special music. Churchlike with a hip swaying rhythm that is both beautiful and rousing.

Neil Pepe has staged the show simply emphasizing the songs. In a bizarre epilogue that you might see being foreshadowed in the opening moments we sadly say adieu to these two gifted women.

Through October 2nd

Photo – Ahron R. Foster