‘Peg O’ My Heart’ & ‘Sistas’ At Midtown International Theatre Festival

Times Square Chronicles – By Sandi Durell – July 23, 2011

I saw two musicals the other day, both very impressive, spanning different time periods, generations and ethnicities, but similar because both offer fine historical overviews.

“Sistas: The Musical” is a revue with a story about the strife of African-American women told through song featuring music from the 30’s to present day. The women are brought together by the death of Grandma Alice, the matriarch of the family, as relationships flare and share as they rummage through memories in the attic. It is written by playwright Dorothy Marcic, a professor at Columbia University, who authored 14 books including RESPECT: Women and Popular Music; the musical RESPECT, subsequently touring throughout the U.S.

The women, while searching for an appropriate song for Grandma Alice’s memorial, engage in the heartbreak and joys of African-American women everywhere as their story comes to life – from oppression to empowerment.

Tamika (Patrice Covington), the youngest of the group is equipped with typical gear, bopping and listening to music on her earphones and texting on her cell; her cousins Gloria (Angela K. Thomas) and Roberta (Jennifer Fouche) more seriously involved in the memories, misfortunes and realities of strife as tunes like “My Man,” “Tain’t Nobody’s Business” and “God Bless the Child” recount stories with references to Ma Rainey and Billie Holiday. Tamika’s mom Simone (Gayle Samuels), a Phd. at a university, speaks about Betty Friedan and the women’s movement, relating it to Bessie Smith who sang about it 90 years earlier, as the talk turns to bigotry, hardship and the expression of the spirit of African-American women.

Roberta is angered, intent on the sacrifices the women have made, the history and horrors as she soulfully sings “Strange Fruit,” her deep bluesy sound quite impressive. Briana Davis plays Heather, the white girlfriend, who bears the brunt of anger that erupts as she attempts to assuage the bitterness.

The show takes a lighter turn about halfway through, as it turns to glamour, boyfriends and music like “Mama Said,” Baby, I’m Yours,” Say a Little Prayer,” Stop in the Name of Love” and a rip-roaring R E S P E C T.

Tamika is the comic relief as Simone does her turn on “I Will Survive.” Chatter turns to hair relaxers and “white women worry about weight; black women worry about hair” as they sing “I Am Not My Hair.” “Call Tyrone” gets a lot of audience reaction, as does “All the Single Ladies.” Tamika does a bang up job with a Whitney Houston tune. There’s a bit of proselytizing from Gloria about God, independence and inter-dependence, lessons are learned and a happy ending with “We Are Family.”

They are accompanied by a trio, Musical Director Charles Geizhals. The show is directed by Kenneth Ferrone; Choreography is by Lauren Lim-Jackson.