Respect – A Musical Celebration of Women
Herberger Theater Center

Regional Review by Gil Benbrook
Feb. 2014

Carlita Victoria, Heather Paton, Rachel Richards and Sarah Shahinian

When most people hear a Top 40 pop song from their past they are immediately taken back to a specific moment in their life when that song was in essence the soundtrack to a feeling, expression or experience they had. In 1999 when Vanderbilt professor Dr. Dorothy Marcic was doing research of the more than 2,400 Top 40 songs sung by women in the 20th century she noticed something else, that there was a pattern in the way women were depicted in the song lyrics. Social change over the century was embedded in the lyrics of the songs. The songs told the story of a women’s journey from being girls waiting for men to love and rescue them in the early part of the century to learning to love themselves, taking responsibility for their own actions, and becoming powerful individuals toward the latter part of the century. Her research became a book and then a musical. Neither a true jukebox musical nor a simple “revue” of songs, but a show with familiar pop songs that also has an important message at its core, Respect – A Musical Celebration of Women is a fun, well written musical revue and an interesting history lesson as well. Respect has already been performed in over thirty cities and the four women heading up the cast at the Herberger Theater Center are powerful, funny and uplifting, just like the show.

Marcic’s research resulted in her 2002 book “Respect: Women and Popular Music” and then, since she was already using music in her presentations on the topic, it only seemed natural to take the next step to turn her research into a full-fledged musical show. Respect also uses images of famous people and situations projected on three screens above the stage, which, when combined with the songs and the narrative, adds even more color to the history of women at the core of the show. While that might seem like a boring multi-media college “Women’s Studies” class presentation, it is actually far from it. With over 70 songs woven throughout the show, some as parts of medleys, others performed in their entirety, the musical is a fascinating lesson in how the lyrics of the songs show how women gained “respect” over the 20th century.

In the early part of the century songs like “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “I Wanna Be Loved By You” showed women’s belief that they needed a man to love and protect them, and cartoon characters like Betty Boop and Hollywood stars like Shirley Temple projected this image. Coco Chanel and Estee Lauder brought fashion and beauty into women’s lives, replacing the constraints of the corset with less restrictive and much less bulky fashions, but the limitations of the “weaker sex,” including the inability for women to vote, and the focus on marriage and motherhood were still embedded in the lyrics of the songs of the period.

The Great Depression brought escapist entertainment through songs, and the blues helped many women like Billie Holiday find a way to sing through the pain of their experience. While women did win the right to vote in 1920, the responsibilities they found when they joined the workforce in the 1940s during the “Rosie the Riveter” days were short lived once the men returned from WWII and women were no longer needed in the factories. Annette Funicello, Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day ushered in the ’50s with tunes like “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “I Enjoy Being a Girl” and “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” with the lyrics still having a focus on more frivolous things or of powerless women singing that “the future’s not ours to see.”

The ’60s and ’70s found women being caught between being seen as either obedient or outspoken with songs like “You Don’t Own Me,” “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” “I Will Survive,” “At Seventeen” and “I Am Woman” all reflective of the women’s rights movement. No longer were women giving up their power to a man. But with women now entering the work force, and also having to balance their work and family lives, they found that power came at a price, with rising divorce rates one of the results of this shift. Strong female singers with powerful messages in the ’80s and ’90s like Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Whitney Houston were mirror images of the strength and respect that women had finally gained after an incredibly long struggle.

Marcic’s research provides a wealth of interesting points and information, and the many songs used throughout the show to represent Marcic’s findings are perfect, as are the four ladies in the Phoenix production. The cast is led by Rachel Richards who serves as the “narrator” of the piece (in essence a de facto Marcic in summarizing the research behind the book and how the lyrics of the songs mirror the struggle of women over the century), with Heather Paton, Carlita Victoria and Sarah Shahinian (who also directed the show and stepped in for an ailing Eileen Cella at the performance I attended.) All four portray various characters that supplement the songs and provide another way to connect the lyrics to the struggle of women over the century.

Paton has the best voice of the four and her solos on “Whatever Lola Wants,” “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” are perfect. She is a gifted singer and actress as well as a natural comic. Victoria shines on her version of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” and an energetic “I Will Survive,” as well as in her portrayal of Rosa Parks. Shahinian is comically delicious on “It Must Be Him.” I love the frantic image of her waiting for the phone to ring, at times even crawling on the floor toward it, and she also sings a touching “As Long as He Needs Me” from Oliver!. Richards gets to add her singing voice as well, beyond just providing the narration, and she literally lets her hair down to deliver a rocking “Piece of My Heart,” a heartfelt “In My Daughter’s Eyes” and an emotional “Beautiful.” There are also many trios and duets, including a rousing “Where Is the Love?,” a humorous “I’m Sorry,” an energetic “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and a poignant “The Greatest Love of All.”

Shahinian and choreographer Carmela Guiteras Mayo keep the action moving, effectively staging the songs from the downstage space to the smaller upstage area and the several steps in between. Minimal props and a few elements of clothing are used to represent the changing characters, song lyrics and time periods. At the performance I attended Paton had some difficulty in getting one of her white go-go boots on for “These Boots Are Made for Walking” but that didn’t stop her from providing back up harmonies and dance moves even though it was extremely difficult for her to get up and down the stairs with only one boot on. She’s a trouper and a naturally spontaneous comic as well.

Respect – A Musical Celebration of Women is a musical celebration of women but also a musical revue that both sexes can enjoy. With insightful narrative woven among the songs, and a talented group of ladies singing the songs and telling stories of women throughout the century, the show is uplifting and at times even emotional, but also fun. While it is in parts motivational and inspiring, it is never preachy. You will hear the lyrics of these many well-known songs in a completely different way.

Respect – A Musical Celebration of Women runs through March 2nd at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased by calling 602-252-8497 or at Additional shows are planned in other cities and show dates for all cities can be found at

Created by Dr. Dorothy Marcic and based on her book, “Respect: Women and Popular Music”
Produced by Bud Martin, Philip Roger Roy in Association with Dorothy Marcic
Director: Sarah Shahinian
Music Director: John Daniels
Choreographer: Carmela Guiteras Mayo
Set Design: Dirk Durossette
Lighting Design: James Leitner
With: Heather Paton, Rachel Richards, Sarah Shahinian and Carlita Victoria

Photo: Steve Carr, The Kur Carr Group, Inc.