Michael Mendez and Jai Shanae

PHOTO BY VUTTI PHOTOGRAPHY Performing in WBTT’s ‘Love Sung in the Key of Aretha’ are Michael Mendez and Jai Shanae.

For its final offering of the 2018-2019 mainstage season, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) will present the Nate Jacobs-penned original musical revue, Love Sung in the Key of Aretha.

Jacobs also directs this show, which runs through April 28, with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. and weekend matinees at 2 p.m. at the Westcoast Black Theatre, 1012 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota.

The musical centers around five contemporary female characters who are close friends, exploring how they experience the joys and hardships of life and romantic relationships through their friendship and love of Franklin’s music. Over the course of the show, WBTT celebrates Franklin’s masterful artistry, bigger-than-life talent, and remarkable understanding of human relationships through her songs, rather than the more structured story WBTT presented in 2011.

Over 30 songs – including Franklin’s biggest hits “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “Respect” – are woven throughout the plot, sung by the seven characters. The cast includes Syreeta Banks, Jennifer Massey, Michael Mendez, Micresha Myatt, Robert Richards Jr., Jai Shanae and Teresa Stanley.

The story focuses on romantic love and explores love for mankind, human relationships and social consciousness. Aretha’s inspiration goes beyond music to her work in the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahalia Jackson and others. Franklin was much more than a singer and the women in “Love Sung in the Key...” are moved by her legacy of social action as well.

“You can hear Aretha’s spirit in every song she recorded and see it in everything she did. Our story builds on that spirit,” said WBTT Founder and Artistic Director Nate Jacobs. “On a personal level, I saw how the music of Aretha Franklin changed the environment in my house whenever we heard her on the record player or the radio – my hardworking mother was transformed into a vibrant young girl as she sang along!”

“It was a blow to many of us at WBTT when Aretha passed away last year – so many of us grew up with and loved her music for decades,” said WBTT Executive Director Julie Leach. “It was a coincidence that we already had this show on the schedule but we are taking very seriously our responsibility to properly pay tribute to the late and very great Queen of Soul.”

Production stage manager is Juanita Munford, assistant stage manager is Travis Ray, set designer is Michael Newton-Brown, properties designer is Annette Breazeale, lighting designer is Nick Jones, and wig designer is Travis McCue.

WBTT’s sizzling live band will accompany the singers. James “Jay” Dodge II is music director and also will play bass; Todd Bellamy is assistant music director and will play piano. Remaining band members are: Courtland Green, auxiliary keys; Willie Thompson, guitar; and Michael Andrews, drums.

Tickets are $45/adults, $20/students and active military (with valid ID). A very limited supply of tickets is still available – call the Box Office at 941-366-1505 or visit: westcoastblacktheatre.org.


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