“Girl Groups: The ‘60s Explosion” at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe was my favorite show of the season and one of the company’s best performances. This show has everything Sarasota audiences love about WBTT. Artistic Director Nate Jacobs regularly designs shows that reintroduce some of the greatest songs ever written, interpreted by Broadway caliber performers for the WBTT’s loyal and adoring audiences.
Four performers, Ariel Blue, a WBTT regular, Syreeta Banks, Joanna Ford, and Kat Sallet knocked one famous song after another out of the park. The songs were interspersed with the cast explaining the background that girls groups were an underappreciated mainstay on the midcentury airways. When I talked to people during the intermission the songs featured were their favorites from “American Bandstand.” I knew many of the songs from movies such as “Dirty Dancing” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and I’ll bet a lot of Gen Xers and Millenials would recognize “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Chapel of Love,” and “Tell Him” from Act One and Diana Ross hits such as “Stop in the Name of Love” and “Keep Me Hanging On” from Act Two.
JoAnna Ford was supreme in her portrayal of Ross as the front woman during Act Two. Additionally, as Simon Cowell would say “don’t try Tina if you can’t bring it,” and Blue was revolutionary in her magnificent performance of “Proud Mary.” That song brought the audience to its feet well before the final ovation; but it was “Someday, We’ll Be Together” that brought me to tears. I have always thought of that song as a melody sung about a romantic love story; but Blue, Banks, Ford, and Sallet sang it as an anthem about love for humankind. Apparently, the song morphed into a civil rights song in the 60s; and the WBTT company sang a poignant rendition for our fractious times.
With threats to support for the arts and culture in the headlines, “Girl Groups” is the perfect antidote with it’s message of the power of song. “Girl Groups” also beautifully demonstrates the magic of oft-forgotten performers, including the Shirelles, the Marvelettes, and the Shangri-Las, much as “Hidden Figures,” the highest grossing Oscar nominee this season, helps inform audiences of the talented women behind some of NASA’s greatest successes. “Girl Groups,” running through April 8th, makes you want to sing, dance and celebrate; and that is truly “Sweet Inspiration,” the final song of this fabulous show.