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THEATER REVIEW: Lyceum stages “Respect: A Musical Journey Of Women”

“What would be the soundtrack of your life?” asks the Narrator (Leigh Scarritt) of “Respect: A Musical Journey Of Women,” a woman-centered and largely woman-powered musical playing through June 24 at the Lyceum Theatre.

Playwright and Columbia University professor Dorothy Marcic once traced the history of women in the 20th century for a speech, realizing in the process that the changing character of pop songs (from Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me” to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”) told the tale.

She wrote a book about it in 2002 (“Respect: Women And Popular Music”); the musical “Respect: A Musical Celebration Of Women” was the next logical step, beginning as a one-woman show. That morphed into a four-woman show which has been performed around the county since 2004. Sarah Shahinian directs the show’s local premiere.

The show begins in 1900 and traces the history of women, partly through true stories from the Marcic family’s own migration and her own Wisconsin upbringing and subsequent history. The show takes us from women-as-property to women in the board room.

Scarritt, a staple on local stages (and a teacher of musical comedy performance herself) has three fine and versatile singers to help her tell this story. She needs them, with a repertoire of some 70 songs in various styles, some solo, many requiring close harmony.

North Carolina native Nancy Snow Carr, who came to San Diego to attend the country’s only MFA program in musical theater at SDSU, has a lovely mezzo voice and distinguishes herself here on Rodgers and Hart’s classic “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” Another favorite is her sexy rendition of “Whatever Lola Wants.”

Kelsey Venter clowns it up in that ultimate waiting-for-the-phone-to-ring song “It Must Be Him,” shows feminine loyalty in “As Long As He Needs Me” and puts the womanpower into the Nancy Sinatra favorite “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”

Lisa H. Payton shows fine blues chops in “Blues In The Night,” brings a tear with “God Bless The Child” and takes over the joint with the meanness of “Hard Hearted Hannah” (the vamp of Savannah, the meanest girl in town).

Shahinian directs with a sure hand. Carmela Guiteras Mayo contributes some jaunty choreography. Cris O’Bryon backs up the ladies with a quartet of fine musicians. The set design by Dirk Durossette is simple but effective; James Leitner’s lighting and Mark Valenzuela’s sound – and most especially his video design – add to the show (photos, often comedically illustrative, flash during certain songs); Kate Stallons’ generic costumes are less interesting but workable.

“Respect” is more revue than anything else. If you’d like a painless (though loud), well-executed trip down the memory lane of Top 40 hits about women, this is the show for you.

The details

“Respect: A Musical Journey Of Women” plays through June 24 at the Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown.

Wednesday at 7 pm, Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 6:30 pm; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets call (619) 544-1000 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.