“Respect” is the title of the musical revue at the Omaha Community Playhouse but that doesn’t capture the spirit of the show unless you spell it out R.E.S.P.E.C.T. and add the next line, “Find out what it means to me.”
The women who sing the iconic songs, mostly from the 1960s and 1970s, make sure you know what it means to them. Directed by Kathy Tyree and accompanied by music director Ananias Montague with a six-man band and a backup singer, each shine on a solo that sends the same message that they share in ensemble numbers.
Long before Alisa Moore assures us “I Will Survive,” or Dara Hogan gets the audience clapping along with “I Am Woman” and even before Dani Cleveland goes back to Connie Francis in 1957 for “Who’s Sorry Now?”, we’ve already been warned by Caitlin Mabon that “You Don’t Own Me.”
She’s fierce and emphatic, though with a twinkle in her eye and smile to balance the ferocity, as she demands, “don’t tell me what to say, don’t put me on display” and “please let me be myself.”
Mabon and Moore late join in that Carole King favorite, “You’ve Got a Friend.” But it’s already clear that you might not be on call spring, winter, summer or fall if you don’t learn the other lessons from this songbook conceived by OPC music director Jim Boggess.
He gets the credit in the playbill but was aided in the creative process by Tyree, Montague and Susie Baer Collins. In her note to the audience, headed “Celebrate the Music,” Kathy Tyree follows the “Respect” title with “The Women, Their Music, Their Stories.” It includes a minimal script by Drew Paskovich, allowing enjoyable banter by the vocalists without distracting from the music.
A fifth vocalist was absent temporarily on preview night, but Shirley Terrell-Jordan was expected to return to the show in the Howard Drew Theatre. That same evening the main stage performance of the musical “Kinky Boots” was cancelled due to cast illness and it was also scheduled to return later in June.
Beardmore Subaru, the show’s producing partner, brought an audience that covered the age span from a lively pre-schooler with a big red bow in her hair to teen-agers, twenty-somethings and seniors, a motley group that shared in a standing ovation.
The production completes a season that lived up to promises made by the Playhouse for more equity and diversity both in the plays and the participants. Both Tyree and Hogan are now members of the staff, and the next season includes “Fences” by African-American playwright August Wilson, arguably the greatest American playwright of the 20th century.
Thanks to John Beasley, Omahans had the chance to see his cycle, decade by decade, at his South Omaha theater. Now a broader audience will be exposed to one of his classics.
“Respect” will run through June 26 on the Howard Drew Stage of the Omaha Community Playhouse at 6915 Cass Street with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets starting at $36 are available at ticket.omaha.com, online or by calling the box office at 402.553.0800.