Some R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Shown For Aretha Franklin.

Respect…The Aretha Franklin Songbook

Theatre Severn

Tuesday 17th September 2019

This is a real pot-pouri of a show, a huge mixture with some bits of it smelling sweeter than others. So The Aretha Franklin Songbook now contains classics such as Hey Jude and Bridge Over Troubled Water? If they are in there I wonder if Ms. Franklin knows, because it was a huge surprise for the audience that had turned up to be walked through the beautiful and sublime hits of Aretha Franklin. Well, that isn’t exactly what happened.

The band was great, note on perfect note they offered up the excellent backing for what had the potential to be a great evening. Drums, Bass, Guitar and Keys were the instruments that brought this music to our ears. But maybe that’s not all a show needs to become great and memorable. Sadly this show isn’t that. So why not?

Singing the main lead in each song we had one of four lead vocals They were backed by a choir of five women and one man. The man played the part of a Baptist Minister. Well either he played one or was one, one could be mistaken for thinking he was a real vicar. There was a lot of God on that stage tonight as we watched hand waving and halleluiah shouting backing vocalists. One might be forgiven for thinking that the old chapel that Theatre Severn so cleverly conceals was back in business. All well and good for believers, but to push it onto an audience of several faiths and beliefs is a risky business especially as one wasn’t aware whether all the God interventions were genuine or not.

Maybe that works well in America but when it comes to these matters we are far more demure than we were given credit for and the whole gospel thing grew tiresome. After all they could make the point that Aretha’s roots were in the church but so what, really? She was a pop singer, if she was the Queen of Soul that’s fine but they are getting rather profligate with the Royal monikers. After Elvis was declared King of Rock and Roll it seems one only has to utter a few notes and they will bestow you with a royal title.

The singing started with, Think, the hit Aretha had in the Blues Brothers, it was brilliant and it looked like we were in for a great show. However…

The part of Aretha was shared by four female vocalists, this became a little disconcerting as each vocalist that came on tried to out scream the other. With notes going stratospheric the beauty of the song was lost, Soul is about emotions, about injustices, about feeling blue and so on, nowhere is it written that, to make it soul it has to be screamed relentlessly at your audience. This is something we see in these rubbish TV talent shows where if the singer can’t scream a top C for half an hour they are classed as having no talent! Well that’s wrong. Understanding the writer and capturing the mood is what soul is surely?

So for song after song the competition was hotting up notes were destroyed, screwed up and screamed out, made worse by the lighting plan which included shining brilliant white LEDs into the audience? Why? Surely the lights are to illuminate the singers not the audience? The light shone at such an angle the first five rows in the stalls were temporary blinded. Luckily it didn’t happen a lot but it doesn’t help the audience at all.

Amazing Grace and Bridge Over Troubled Waters, both received the screechy treatment. Can’t remember if Aretha had a hit with either but if she did they weren’t big hits. But both of those are poignant and tender songs, however this show took them by the scruff of the neck and forced them into all sorts of vocal acrobatics for which there was no reason and somehow made the audience feel that perhaps these songs have a new meaning which intensifies the  need to scream them. If that was the case I missed that email!

This isn’t a brilliant show and yet could be. Ditch the religious stuff, write a real biography and start again. Stop screaming and find the sensitivity and don’t be a one trick pony. If I wanted to name the shoutiest show ever it would be this one, I am sure that that wasn’t its real intentions. However that’s how it played out.

This is a Two Star Review

Owen J.Lewis





Sofia Lewis Sofia Lewis
For many years Sofia wrote here under her male name Owen J. Lewis. She is now mostly writing under her own name of Sofia Lewis. Sofia, who worked on independent radio for over ten years, lives in Shrewsbury and writes plays. She has over 15 titles published and her plays are performed all over the world. She is especially popular in America. Her poetry is also often noted and she writes reams of it most weeks. Since graduating in theatre in 1997 Sofia has been an Actor, Filmmaker, and a Secondary School Teacher. Reviewing theatre is something she thoroughly enjoys and she loves to see great theatre. As a musician Sofia is known throughout the UK she is a folk singer, and is often seen or heard around her native county singing and having fun. Sofia has contributed to for over a decade and enjoys sharing her views on theatre. Sofia has one daughter and grew up in Church Stretton.

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