From Betty Boop to Tina Turner and Lily Langtree to Cyndi Lauper, female pop stars and their music provide a vivid reflection of how much has changed for American women in the last 100 years.
That's the story celebrated in the hit musical revue "Respect: A Musical Journey of Women," playing Friday through Sept. 1 at Sierra Repertory Theatre's East Sonora stage.
Four powerhouse performers and a live band draw from decades of Top 40 hits in this non-stop song-and-dance showcase of women's challenges, opportunities and triumphs.
An international hit, it has packed houses from coast to coast.
The song list stretches from period standards such as "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey," "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" to pop fare like "Where the Boys Are" and "Bobbie's Girl" through energized anthems like "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'," "I Am Woman," "I Will Survive" and "Girls Just Want To Have Fun."
A narrator puts the songs in context, so we experience them as a timeline and see how they punctuated turning points in women's history.
"Just hearing these songs that we all love is great fun in and of itself," said SRT Managing Director Sara Jones, "and getting to look at them from this slightly different angle adds depth."
Backstage called it "a lively, entertaining journey through heartache, joy, and liberation… performances by a sizzling ensemble make for a fun ride."
BroadwayWorld called it "one heck of a fun ride ... a must-see and must-hear musical that you will want to see more than once."
The Arizona Weekly Magazine said: "How do you spell hit - with a capital H? R-E-S-P-E-C-T! An entertaining and drop-dead funny musical … a ride through a glorious soundtrack about women over the last 100 years!"
New Jersey guest artist Brian Swasey directs and choreographs SRT's production, and SRT's Mark Seiver is the musical director who leads the live, onstage band.
Swasey, a busy freelancer who works at regional theaters up and down the East Coast, said he is eager to get this production under way.
"I saw the show in Philadelphia, and the audience just ate it up," he said. "It's remarkable - and so much fun. The show played there six months - they just kept extending it."
Creator Dorothy Marcic, a Vanderbilt University professor, based the show on her book that looked at the development of the women's movement through the lyrics of Top 40 hits from each decade.
That gives the show very personal appeal, Swasey said.
"Everyone in the audience, all ages, has personal attachments to this music. You hear a snippet and it creates a personal feeling," he said. "It's a fun 90 minutes, you're going down your own personal memory lane and you can just enjoy being entertained."
The cast includes Kacey Coppola, who was in last year's hit "Ring of Fire" at the Fallon House venue; Nancy O'Bryan, who just finished playing Karen in SRT's production of "Church Basement Ladies"; Southern California performer Tracie Franklin (SRT's "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Sweet Charity" and "All Night Strut") and SRT newcomer Courtney Nolan-Smith, a New York performer who has worked with Swasey in several shows on the East Coast.
Joining Seiver are Dennis Dragan on bass, Mark Kreuzer on drums and Josh Weeks on guitar. The live band, Seiver said, will punch up the energy of the show.
"The show isn't locked in," he said. "It can groove a little different every single night. I'm excited at the breadth of styles we get to explore."
Guest artist Rand Endlow of the University of the Pacific is designing the set with its scores of digital projections. Costume design is by guest artist Jose M. Rivera (SRT's "Oklahoma!," "I Love a Piano"), lighting by Christopher Van Tuyl, props by SRT's Mercy Sharpe and stage management by SRT's Lia Metz.
SRT's production of "Respect" is presented with the help of underwriters Clarke Broadcasting and MicroTronics.
Thursday and Friday performances begin at 7 p.m., Saturday evening performances are at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m.
Ticket prices range from $26 to $32 depending on the day of the performance.
For more information or reservations, call Sierra Rep's box office at 532-3120 or visit www.sierrarep.org.