Westcoast Black Theatre opens new season with soul

The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe plans to take guests on a trip back to the ’70s, a time when music was more than just music.

Think “Proud Mary,” “We are Family” and the saucy “Lady Marmalade.”

Call it the front-runner to girl power music, sung by powerhouse female artists such as Aretha Franklin, The Emotions, Tina Turner and many others.

Nate Jacobs, artistic director of the Westcoast Black Theater Troupe, calls it “Sistas in the Name of Soul.”

Opening its 10th season, the theater will present the musical revue of “Sistas in the Name of Soul” — a tribute to the female artists that rocked the era.

The show opens 8 p.m. Saturday at the Art Center Sarasota, 707 N. Tamiami Trail.

The show will set the mood for the rest of the Westcoast Black Theatre season, which will take on a cabaret-feel in hopes of uplifting the community, said Jacobs.

“I‘m excited about doing music that I grew up listening to,” he said. “In this time of recession, things call for a soulful serenade.”

Following the season opener, the troupe will present “The Crooners” in March, featuring hits from male artists from the same era, and “Popular Duets of the ’70s” in April.

The cast for “Sistas” enjoy being able to dip into the soulful musical past, learning much about the artists of the time.

“Everybody loves Aretha,” said cast member Tsadok Porter, who appeared in the past WBTT production of “Dreamgirls.” “But they underestimate or overlook Denise Williams. I like her songs. Her voice is ridiculously beautiful.”

Porter loves Williams and others like her spoke through their songs.

Music director James Dodge said there’s an interchange of power in these tunes and in the women who sing them. One could see it in their voice and in their stance. It’s the image Dodge thinks of when he hears female artists from the ’70s.

“I think of very strong women,” he said. “I guess women who have their minds made up with who they love, their ideas, of doing their own things — Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross. It was all music that actually said something. The lyrics had meaning. It tells us about life, the experience that women were going through.”

Comparing them to artists of today, Dodge sees a few differences. Most of today’s music sounds more synthesized and many artists use pre-recorded music during performances.

The live bands and back-up singers of the ’70s made performances spicier and exciting.

Porter noted that many artists’ musical intent has changed, too.

“A lot of R&B artist are great, but there are not as pure,” said the 25-year-old Sarasota resident. “They are more about making money.”

It seems anything with a good beat can be a quick sell for the music industry these days, but at times, it’s the lyrics that get sacrificed. Not so with the 1970s.

Cast member Whitney Rashad, who starred in last season’s “Once On This Island,” is also learning a lot from the musical era and has grown fond of the artists from that time.

“They’re unbelievable,” she said. “Just by hearing a lot of the music, I can honestly see where music has come from . . . I’ve actually come to realize that the music people my age and other teenagers like is based off that time period.”

Though what’s old has become new in today’s R&B genre, some people still prefer the classic hits over the remakes, which makes “Sistas In the Name of Soul” a great show to see, said Jacobs.

The music revue will also showcase several hits from the 1960s as well.

The assortment of tunes, snazzy costumes and soul will make for a unique music party, said Jacobs.

“Come in, take a seat and forget about your troubles,” said Jacobs.

“Focus on the bounty and joy and the singing of these artists.”

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.

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