By Michael Tessler
Let me start by saying that I don’t think I was the show’s intended audience. That being said, this became one of my favorite shows in recent memory. Theatre Three’s “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women,” a jukebox musical by Dorothy Marcic that opened this weekend, had me laughing, tapping my feet and, on two occasions, holding back tears (alas, to no avail).
Skillfully directed by Mary Powers, this truly powerful production tells not just the story of one woman or one era — but rather represents in so many ways the diversity and difficult journey toward equality experienced by all women.
Music, as I was often reminded growing up, is a reflection of our souls and in many ways a caricature of how we view ourselves. This piece takes the most popular music of the last century and uses it to form an evocative narrative that demonstrates just how powerful music can be.
Music in its most righteous form can be used as a tool for liberation and in its worst used to reinforce oppression. Its impact, especially in American culture, has very much defined the national consciousness.
This show delves into that concept as we meet the protagonist, presumably the show’s playwright. She is a widow and entering a stage in her life where she desperately wishes to better understand herself and the women in her family. She takes it upon herself to research the most popular music of the previous century, beginning a powerful journey of self-discovery and liberation.
With musical direction by Steve McCoy, this show’s small but dynamic cast is genuinely empowering. Their harmonies are beautiful and ever-changing as the show travels through the decades. They belt out the classics and remind you of a few forgotten treasures. No matter what your taste, this show has something for you, from the mesmerizing harmonies of “Mr. Sandman” to the fierce “I Will Survive.” Lori Beth Belkin, Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni, Jessica Contino and Amanda-Camille shine in their performances from heartfelt soul to rock and roll.
Sari Feldman’s choreography evolves with the production, masterfully adapting with each new era. You’ll get a taste of nearly every decade, from the Charleston to the more contemporary dance moves of Britney Spears and everything in-between.
The show’s set and lighting design by Randall Parsons and Robert W. Henderson Jr. doesn’t overly complicate itself but rather compliments the cast perfectly, featuring impressive light installations that provide ample mood lighting and a screen that provides historical visuals and points of reference throughout the show — great embellishments to an already great performance.
“Respect” is an incredible spectacle that transports the viewer through time using the power of music. Theatre Three’s matinee audience was the most lively I’ve ever seen. Viewers young and old found themselves clapping and resisting the urge to sing along.
All of Athena Hall was captivated by nostalgia and the beautiful sounds produced by this enormously talented cast and on-stage pit. Personalities of the past returned to life with brief flashes of Rosa Parks, Robert Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop, Scarlett O’Hara and so many others.
This musical shouldn’t just be watched by those who find comfort in the nostalgic sounds of their youth, but by the men and women of today who will leave the theater with a new found appreciation for all the progress we’ve made and the work still left to do. This show is empowering, humbling, emotional, hysterical and wonderfully refreshing. For me, it was the surprise treat of the season!
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women” on the Mainstage through March 25. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 ages 5 to 12. Children under 5 not permitted. Wednesday matinee $20. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.