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Phoenix theater: Herberger Theater Center celebrates women with ‘Respect’

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Respect. That’s what women have been wanting for quite some time. On Thursday, Feb. 6, at the Herberger Theater Center’s 2 p.m. matinee presentation of “Respect: A Musical Celebration of Women,” they finally got it.

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Who knew getting respect could be so much fun? Apparently Dr. Dorothy Marcic did when she came up with a one-woman show combining her research on the role of women with 20th-century popular music. The show eventually turned into the four-woman musical theater production playing at the Herberger through March 2.

Four outstanding women bring their talents to interweave life stories of women with relevant song excerpts and thus portray the changing role of women through the years. They’re backed up by a terrific band: John Daniels at the piano and keyboards, J.B. Smith on drums, Jason Brown at the guitar and Steve Anderson playing bass.

New York-based actor, singer and writer Rachel Richards takes the role of narrator and makes us truly believe those stories about her mother or aunt or grandmother. Richards holds a bachelor’s degree in dramatic arts from the University of Georgia and has worked with the Tony Award-winning Alliance Theatre, Tyler Perry Studios and others. She has also created, produced and performed her own solo show.

“Respect” has plenty of laughs, including a hilarious depiction of the agony of waiting for the phone to ring in a day when there were no cell phones and there was no voice mail, and girls were socially prohibited from calling boys. They were afraid to go to the mailbox in case the phone rang, and mom was no help. “What do you think I am, your secretary?” she asks in the narrator’s voice.

Taking the lead in the above scene, while singing “It Must Be Him,” is Sarah Shahinian, the director who stepped to fill the part due to a last-minute emergency. Being familiar with a part through directing is hardly the same as being able to sing, dance and act it, but Shahinian does an amazing job.

During the singing of “Sweet Talking Guy,” photos of various well-known “sweet-talking guys” appear above the heads of the singers. On Thursday the last one, that of Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County’s famous sheriff, evoked a burst of laughter from the audience.

Heather Paton and John Daniels got big laughs when Paton draped herself over the piano while singing “Whatever Lola Wants.” Paton delighted the audience by belting out “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey” and convinced us that Marilyn Monroe was right: “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

Born and raised in San Diego, Calif., Paton holds a bachelor’s in theatre arts from San Diego State University. Some of her other credits are Ilona in “She Loves Me” and the title role in “Sugar,” the musical adaptation of “Some Like It Hot.” Along with Tony Houck, she cowrote and costarred in “We Might Be Cousins,” a cabaret show at Diversionary Theatre in San Diego.

Besides the laughs and fun songs, there are poignant moments as well. Carlita Victoria takes the audience through a number of those. Aside from her awesome singing of such blues songs as “God Bless the Child” and “Taint Nobody’s Business If I Do,” she also takes on the role of Rosa Parks, describing the day when Parks had finally had enough and refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery bus.

A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Victoria returns to “Respect” after two months at Circus Connelli in Switzerland. Other credits include the national tour of “Chuck Davis & the African American Dance Ensemble,” Nettie in “The Color Purple,” Lorrell Robinson in “Dreamgirls” and Little Inez/Dynamite in “Hairspray.”

At various times, the faces of a number of august women are projected above the cast: Golda Meir, Sandra Day O’Connor, Coretta Scott King, Mother Teresa, even Oprah. The last one to appear is that of Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman from Arizona who survived a January 8, 2011, shot in the head.

No laughter there. Only respect.

And speaking of respect, it’s Victoria who in the end leads the cast in the signature song, after first asking the audience, “Did you have a good time?”

The answer? A resounding yes.

Tickets to “Respect” are still available online or by calling the Herberger Theater Center box office at (602) 252-8497. Hurry. You don’t want to miss it.

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Follow me on Twitter @DorisNehrbass.

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