Atlantic Theater Company presents the world premiere of George Brant's play about music legend Sister Rosetta Tharpe's collaboration with Marie Knight, which culminated in a career-defining tour. More…
A huge influence on Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and Jimi Hendrix, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a legend in her own time, bringing fierce guitar playing and swing to gospel music. Tharpe was the queen of ‘race records’ in the '30s and '40s, who performed at churches in the morning and the Cotton Club in the evening. She was a big enough star to fill a baseball stadium for her third wedding, but ended up buried in an unmarked grave in Philadelphia. 'Marie and Rosetta' chronicles her first rehearsal with a young protégée, Marie Knight, as they prepare to embark on a tour that would establish them as one of history's great musical duos.
"It is unthinkable that Lewis and Jones, both operating at the height of their considerable powers, could possibly be better…It's tough to imagine we'll see better musical performances this season…They work brilliantly together, effortlessly contrasting each other in physical appearance as well as voice…The lesson is not new. But it doesn't need to be when it's executed this well…How can the Atlantic afford repairs eight times a week when Lewis, Jones, Brant, and Pepe keep blowing off the roof?" Full Review
"This is one of those rare occasions when a true story doesn’t ruin a perfectly good play...The only way to improve this production would be to stage it in a dance hall. I was nearly jumping out of my skin wanting to get up and boogie. This show is good for everything that ails you – heart, mind and soul. 'Marie and Rosetta' lift you up to Heaven, and then set you gently back down on earth." Full Review
"You may not have heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight before, but after 'Marie and Rosetta' you will be convinced of their importance in the development of popular music in the 20th century. Credit goes to Rebecca Naomi Jones and Kecia Lewis for making this a mesmerizing evening of gospel, spirituals and popular song." Full Review
"‘Marie and Rosetta’ isn’t the kind of play you criticize the way you do something by Edward Albee. It’s a well-crafted exercise that provides an excellent context in which to learn about and appreciate two exceptional performers who made an indelible impact on popular music...Jones and Lewis couldn’t be bettered; they perfectly capture these women’s sharply different personalities, offering totally believable yet larger-than-life representations." Full Review
"A delightful new play…A not-to-be-missed example of what the theater can do with music…’Marie and Rosetta’ smartly incorporates music without falling into the traps that so often accompany contemporary musical theater…The songs come naturally and regularly add to the emotional resonance of the play...An intimate story about the relationship between two women, and the way they lift each other up through music. It's enough to make the theater faithful stand up and shout 'Hallelujah!'" Full Review
"It may take place in a funeral parlor, but you won’t find anything more full of life than ‘Marie and Rosetta’…The dialogue is revealing and often very funny…But it’s the music that gives ‘Marie and Rosetta’ wings. These women can sing…Lewis recognizes Rosetta as the dream role it is and she pours her heart into every fiber of the singer’s being. As the more reticent Marie, Jones does less of a star turn, but it’s fun to watch her evolve from hothouse flower into radiant lily of the field." Full Review
"A near pitch-perfect, smart, toe-tapping bio-play…I might have given this show 10 out of 10 if the actors actually played the guitar and piano…However, the two actual musicians were superb! In an incredibly surprising and clever twist at the end, we fast forward. Touching, tender, and a complete closure to the trajectory of the story, which brings it all back to the beginning and suddenly every little detail in the beginning now makes sense." Full Review
"What a wonderful journey. 'Marie and Rosetta' was an authentic and soul-warming trip to 1946 Mississippi’s gospel scene…The women made the performance gallop across the room, the audience clapping and stomping by its completion. Jason Michael Webb’s musical direction makes 'Marie and Rosetta' a must-hear. Director Neil Pepe captured George Brant’s work expertly. If you are looking for a night of music and a story that will bring you to tears...see 'Marie and Rosetta.'" Full Review
"Even when 'Marie and Rosetta' seems to be about little more than getting the act together, it makes for a fine 90 minutes, thanks to some salty dialogue and sizzling vocals, courtesy of two magnificently equipped actresses...Neil Pepe, the director, handles these slender dramatic goods with extreme delicacy, extracting two finely shaded performances that nevertheless make room for some galvanic vocals, backed by the excellent guitarist Felicia Collins and pianist Deah Harriott." Full Review
"Even if 'Marie and Rosetta' occasionally gets grounded in clunky exposition, this 90-minute piece soars whenever these ultra-talented ladies get to sing. The 'score' is comprised primarily of real-life gospel standards and, regardless of your religion or belief system, anyone with an appreciation for great music will end up in heaven during these passages...Director Neil Pepe has guided the proceedings with a smooth hand." Full Review
"In director Neil Pepe’s sly, expert chamber musical, Lewis and Jones don’t just portray the women on what appears to be their first rehearsal...These actors also sing, whisper and wail the wonderful songs — including 'This Train' and 'Down by the Riverside' — and are so convincing at the piano and guitar that it’s hard to believe they are not playing. Fairness demands that credit goes to Felicia Collins and Deah Harriott behind the scrim." Full Review
"Brandt is a gifted storyteller and the 90 minutes without intermission are mesmerizing...Brandt includes a satisfying twist in telling the story of how the woman who once was a big enough celebrity to fill a baseball stadium for her third wedding ended up forgotten and buried in an unmarked grave. I felt grateful that Brandt has brought her back to life for us...And the music is heavenly. I felt as though I had attended a worship service." Full Review
"George Brant’s drama, unsentimentally directed by Neil Pepe, is peppered with evocative detail, and it incorporates its biographical material gracefully...Rosetta’s incipient mentorship of Marie is capably rendered...Lewis and Jones sing superbly…As the play goes on, the dialogue starts to seem more and more like segues between musical numbers, but it’s hard to complain. You don’t have to be religious to know when you’re in the presence of glory." Full Review
"Brant's story is essentially a framing device for a terrific, concert—a concert vibrant enough to make even non-gospel fans tap their feet and applaud after each number. The music may even make you forgive the playwright's contrived trick ending...Lewis and Jones make this two-hander soar dramatically as well as musically. Both are fine actors and have big belting vocals...By the time the two women actually sing and play together the show really rocks." Full Review
"The story of Rosetta and her stage partner Marie is brought to vivid life, but their music is what steals the show...The exposition is rather clunky. But the performances are remarkable...Rosetta was a child prodigy on the gospel circuit and Lewis sings her like the second coming. Rebecca Naomi Jones is equally gifted as the younger Marie...Director Pepe wisely allows the music to carry the day. With this much talent, when these ladies get cooking, it's a religious experience." Full Review
"Both actresses have excellent singing voices and make full use of them…The only shortcoming in the work comes with the story itself...While the story provides a nice introduction to who these people were, it never really goes below the surface in examining the life of either. These quibbles aside, 'Marie and Rosetta' offers both a tuneful, entertaining time at the theater and a look at two interesting figures in 20th-century music." Full Review
"A brash and swaggering new play with music from the Atlantic...Stage vet Kecia Lewis is wised-up, earthy and soulful as the flamboyant performer who has both a matronly concern for her new charge and something of a sensual draw to her, as well. Rebecca Naomi Jones, as Marie, is initially timid, but Sister Rosetta draws her out, helping her walk a line between faith and seductiveness." Full Review
"Lewis and Jones bring it all home in song after song…If the conversation between the two women never approaches the excitement of their singing, the playwright is adept at establishing the distinctiveness of their personalities…Late in the play, there is an eye-rolling twist…As shopworn as it is, it doesn’t spoil the service that George Brant has rendered by retrieving these figures for the stage, nor the rousing musical performances that are the heart of ‘Marie and Rosetta.'" Full Review
"A swift and enjoyable bio-drama…Rebecca Naomi Jones and Kecia Lewis are both fine singing actors who are giving excellent performances…While a dramatic twist at the end doesn't quite land, it works as a vehicle to provide information about what happened to the two later in life. If ‘Marie and Rosetta’ is somewhat lacking in storytelling, the excitement of watching Jones and Lewis whole-heartedly present a taste of their artistry is well worth a visit." Full Review
"Playwright George Brant has written a perfunctory script about the first rehearsal of this legendary team, but since the biographical details are so thin, it’s all about the glorious voices…As a story framework, it’s corny as hell, but it works well enough to support the singers and their celestial voices. Lewis is a force of nature, and when she unleashes her powerhouse voice on rockin’ versions of gospel classics the church roof elevates." Full Review
"It emerges as a thin if likable drama that enables us to enjoy the main attractions, the terrific singing by Kecia Lewis as Tharpe and Rebecca Naomi Jones as Knight...The dialogue between the women can get sharp at times...But the singing is the real treat...Directed with feeling by Neil Pepe, it is an impressive tribute to the two singers who contributed so much to the musical world with their creativity, performing and recording." Full Review
"There’s a sea change. We’re not exactly where or when we thought we were. The idea is good, the transition bumpy, dialogue less secure. 'Marie and Rosetta' is musically entertaining and well written to that point. Both actresses do a fine job, with Rebecca Naomi Jones excelling in the outsized, yet devout role...Director Neil Pepe does an adroit job of giving the women small natural business and of indicating changes in their relationship...Pacing is deft." Full Review
"George Brant's two-hander purports to tell the story of that relationship. I say purports because his plot is thin, and his story employs a lot of poetic license...But none of that matters because what gives this show its heart, and yes, its soul, is the music. There are few things more glorious than a well-sung gospel song and this show has a bunch of them. It also has two superb performances from Rebecca Naomi Jones as Marie and Kecia Lewis as Rosetta." Full Review
"Neil Pepe's direction is unassuming, freeing Lewis and Jones to feed off each other's energy...The actresses' main obstacles are the thin and sometimes artificial emotional arcs they're given, so they tend to hide behind their characters' postures...Beyond the warmth of its leads and the spiritedness of its music — and despite its paucity of dramatic tension — the greatest virtue of 'Marie and Rosetta' is the rarely told history it illuminates." Full Review
"Music, more than the rather slender threads of bio-drama, forms the spine and provides the allure in ‘Marie and Rosetta'…Fortunately, there is plenty of music to divert us when the dialogue dawdles. Both Ms. Lewis and Ms. Jones have beautiful voices, and they do blend smoothly...Because the music is roof-raising, I would have preferred to tip the balance more toward songs...‘Marie and Rosetta’ sometimes sags, but when it sings, it really swings." Full Review
See it if Absolute masterpiece. One of the greatest pieces of theatre I have ever seen. Powerful, entertaining, a beautiful production. Go see it!
Don't see it if You don't like theatre that highlights the black experience in music and in America.
See it if The singing is ABOVE PAR,those ladies know how to really rock a room and stir emotion within....
Don't see it if You don't want to have a most enjoyable experience!
See it if you want to see a Master Class in Acting...these two women are amazing and should not be missed. They sing well too...time flies ...see it.
Don't see it if You don't like Gospel music that swings, or you hate powerful voices. You don't like shows without an intermission...none here, none needed
See it if You want to see masterful performances that pull you into the story from the beginning. The music is amazing and both sing their faces off.
Don't see it if You're looking for something more than a slice of life play about two women.
See it if You like spiced-up gospel singing. You appreciate superb voices.
Don't see it if You object to the cast pretending they're playing the piano and the guitar even if it's done so perfectly that you can't tell it's not them.
See it if you like music to take you to church. The music and performances are as electric as the two actors' chemistry.
Don't see it if you don't enjoy gospel music--or you have no soul.
See it if You are interested the story of 2 amazing black female singers who changed music.
Don't see it if You read the review and aren't interested in the subject matter
See it if Those two women can sing!!! Wow! The thin-ish story is actually just the right size. The acting and singing is it. Superb. Moving.
Don't see it if You don't like bluesy gospel. But I saw give it a try. The performances shine.
See it if You like history, particularly concerning the South. You like gospel/rock and roll/church music. You like intimate theatre.
Don't see it if You like big/spectacle shows. The sight of coffins is unnerving to you.
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