SISTAS: The Musical – a Review by Audrey J. Bernard

New York Times Review

Sistas: The Musical — From left, Amy Goldberger, April Nixon, Tracey Conyer Lee, Jennifer Fouché and Lexi Rhoades don gold lamé for a show written by Dorothy Marcic at St. Luke’s Theater. – By Audrey J. Bernard, Reviewer – December 31, 2011

Sistas: The Musical, the storied musical journey of African American women from Bessie Smith to Beyonce through Top-40 music officially opened on Sunday, October 23, 2011, Off-Broadway at the St. Luke’s Theatre (308 West 46th Street) to rave reviews after a very successful run at the Midtown International Theater Festival. Nightly, theatergoers happily leave the play with a smile on their face and humming one of the memorable songs from the full of fun musical.

The 90-minute musical sans intermission stars Jennifer Fouché, Amy Goldberger, Tracey Conyer Lee, April Nixon and Lexi Rhoades, and is produced by 3-time Tony winner Hinton Battle, and Jenkay, LLC (Jay Harris and William Franzblau).

The side-splitting fun play is written by Dorothy Marcic (writer of Respect: The Musical, which has played in 20 cities), and stunningly directed by Kenneth Ferrone. All members of the play’s production team know a thing or two about successful musicals having all been involved in many hit musicals. They can now add this play to their winning trophy case.

After a matriarch’s death, the women in the family clean Grandma’s attic and find love and old memories packed away, and in the process, hit tunes that trace the history of Black women, from the trials of the 1930s through the Girl Groups of the 60s to the empowerment of the 90s.

Three sisters (Jennifer Fouché, Tracey Conyer Lee and April Nixon); their white sister-in-law (Amy Goldberger); and Lexi Rhoades who plays April Nixon’s daughter prepare for the funeral of the family’s 92-year-old matriarch. When we meet the sisters, they are in their grandmother’s attic as they prepare for an appropriate song to sing.

During their search, their individual experiences begin to unravel and they learn compelling things about each other that they never knew before including sexual abuse. In the end they triumph over adversity becoming victors instead of victims from pain and fear. All of this while singing a happy tune or a relatable song.

Sistas: The Musical is a warm and touching story about friendship and family. Marcic’s true accounts of the Black woman’s spirituality resonate in her writing. She truly captures our essence in a very engaging way. “I wrote ‘Sistas The Musical’ because I love the music of African American women,” states Marcic. “And I saw how the music tells their story and how uplifting that story is. It’s the story of love, of family, of overcoming obstacles and ultimate triumph of spirit.”

The 3-man soulful band — Nicholas Cheng (keyboard); Matt Cusack (bass); Brian Adler (percussion) — garnered deafening applause throughout the production playing hit after hit. Many times, when you play in an intimate venue such as the St. Luke’s Theatre, a live band tends to drown out the performers. This never happened here as the band accompanied the singers like a teacher does her class on a field trip.

Songs included “Oh, Happy Day,” “Mama Said,” “I Will Survive,” “Tyrone,” “I Am Not My Hair,” “We Are Family,” Stormy Weather,” Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “God Bless the Child,” Strange Fruit,” Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” “Take My Hand Precious Lord,” “Milkshake,” Say a Little Prayer,” “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” and “A Woman’s Worth.”

During this Yuletide Season, when you make your list and check it twice, make sure that Sistas: The Musical is on it! The creative team behind Sistas: the Musical includes Ed Staudenmayer (associate director); Nicholas Cheng (musical director); Germono Toussaint (additional arrangements); Lauren Lim Jackson (choreographer); Renee Marino (associate choreographer); Kia Rogers (lighting designer); Josh Iacovelli (set designer); Tricia Barsamian (costume designer); and Sam Mattingly (general press representative).

At show’s end guests joined the cast at an after party in an intimate room at the theater that was hosted by Marcic and the producers. Guests lined up to offer their congratulations to the captivating cast and vowed that they would come back and bring their sisters with them. (Photo Credit: Lawrence Gallmon)