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Aretha Franklin musical tribute set for Patchogue Theatre

Aretha Franklin performs at the inaugural gala

 Aretha Franklin performs at the inaugural gala for President Bill Clinton in Washington, D.C. in January, 1993.   Credit: AP/Amy Sancetta

On the day Aretha Franklin died in August, Gary Hygom, like many fans, felt a deep sense of loss.

“Aretha Franklin had a presence that transcended so much,” said Hygom, Patchogue Theatre’s executive director. “She defined legendary . . . She was someone I had always wanted to book and I was upset that I had never been able to see her in person.”

Hygom called his friend John McDaniel, the Broadway producer, composer and performer best known for leading the band on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” and they began talking about paying tribute to Franklin, a monthslong process that led to the original show “Queen of Soul: A Musical Tribute to Aretha Franklin,” set for Thursday at Patchogue Theatre.

“I was really struck by the incredible longevity of her career,” said McDaniel. “There was no limit to what she could do.”

Franklin’s wide-ranging career makes any salute to her a challenge, but McDaniel has pulled in various musicians, including The Late Show Gospel Choir, Broadway performers Danyel Fulton and Darius De Haas and The HooDoo Loungers & Friends to tackle parts of her career, sometimes with a full band performing and sometimes with just McDaniel accompanying them on the piano.

“You can’t do an Aretha tribute without doing ‘Think’ and ‘Respect,’ those are no-brainers,” he said. “But we aren’t doing any impersonations. This will be a tribute to her career and her life. She did so many things from her start in gospel to duetting with George Michael. Her career was so huge for such a long time.”

McDaniel said that narrowing down the setlist has been tough. “The music she chose was outstanding,” he said. “There are so many great songs, we could do this for three nights.”

One song McDaniel wishes he could attempt, but can’t would be “Nessun Dorma,” the Puccini aria that Franklin unexpectedly performed on the 1998 Grammys, filling in for Luciano Pavarotti who fell ill at the last minute. “Who else could do that?” he said. “Unfortunately, we won’t have a full orchestra with us so it just wouldn’t be possible.”

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McDaniel said he hopes the moment will be addressed in one of the video clips, which will play between performances. Hygom said video clips would be an important part of the evening, especially with the involvement of Joe Lauro, who owns Greenport-based Historic Films Archive.

“He has some really great pieces of video of her, several moments of her onstage and the million interviews she’s done,” Hygom said. “We’re looking for a way to have her introduce some of the songs so that she would be part of the evening in some way.”

And Hygom hopes that there will be many more ambitious projects like this to come. “This is part of who Patchogue is and I think it is important to involve musicians from around the Island,” he said. “It’s so great to pull together to do something that has never been seen before. I think it sets us apart.”

McDaniel, who worked with the Patchogue Theatre on its 50th anniversary celebration of “Hair” in March, said he is happy to be involved. “There are so many creative people out here,” he said. “It’s great to have local people entertaining the people of Long Island.”

WHAT Queen of Soul: A Musical Tribute to Aretha Franklin

WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. Thursday, Patchogue Theatre, 71 E. Main St., Patchogue

INFO $25-$55; 631-207-1313,


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