Respect: The Girl Em-Powered Musical

August 6, 2008
by Hoyt Hilsman

Vanderbilt professor Dorothy Marcic has avoided many obvious theatrical and political pitfalls in her survey of women in popular music in 20th-century America. What began as a scholarly book has morphed into a lively, entertaining journey through heartache, joy, and liberation, avoiding the preachiness or stridency of some academic feminists. Although it’s a dizzying trip, with more than 70 song snippets, performances by a sizzling ensemble make for a fun ride.

It’s hard to find fault with a show that features musical standards–from the turn-of-the-century hit “A Bird in a Gilded Cage” to the 1990s bubblegum rag “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Along the road, we are treated to such anthems as “I Enjoy Being a Girl” and “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.”

The message is obvious, but Marcic wisely does not pound us over the head with it, preferring a tongue-in-cheek approach toward her feminist themes. What makes this show cook is the terrific cast. Susan Carr George is delightful as the narrator and the author’s alter ego, guiding the audience through her journey from small-town Wisconsin schoolgirl to mother and university professor. Jackie Seiden is a standout, with a gorgeous, versatile voice and strong acting ability. Her renditions of songs ranging from roaring ’20s hits to ’70s disco numbers are delivered with passion and remarkable panache. Alet Taylor shows range and versatility and brings the house down with her portrayal of a teenage girl who waits by the phone for a boy to call. And NRaca delivers in all her songs, as well as in a moving monologue about Rosa Parks. Fun costumes by Ivy Thaide, snazzy choreography by Lee Martino, and solid direction by Peter Loewy, along with spot-on music direction by Jim Vukovich, round out this upbeat, entertaining show.

Presented by Loewy/Leone Productions at the El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvdl, North Hollywood. Thurs.-Fri. 8 p.m