WHAT “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women”
WHEN | WHERE Through March 25. Upcoming: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson
TICKETS $35, $28 seniors and students, $20 for ages 5-12; 631-928-9100, theatrethree.com
“What would be the soundtrack of your life?” the narrator asks at the opening of Theatre Three’s Long Island premiere of “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women.”
That depends on when you were born or what stage of life you’re in now.
Narrator Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni embraces the wistful and witty voice of the show’s creator, Dorothy Marcic, former Vanderbilt University professor who wrote a book, “Respect: Women and Popular Music,” based on research in which she tabulated hits sung by females since 1900. A solo revue derived from her study debuted in 2002, followed two years later by the current four-woman jukebox musical format, crisply directed by Mary Powers at Theatre Three.
Long on music — nearly 60 songs are delivered at least in part — and short on academics, “Respect” nevertheless offers a chronological skimming of sociological and political history from 20th century women’s perspective. From “Bird in a Gilded Cage” (a girl who marries for money) to “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from “Show Boat” and “As Long as He Needs Me” from “Oliver,” the early songs reflect ingrained self-disrespect and codependency — to the point of tolerating abuse. Amanda-Camille evokes the tragic blues of Billie Holiday on “God Bless the Child.” But most of Act 1 is frothier, from “Where the Boys Are” to “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Both feature the 20-something baby of the quartet, Jessica Contino, and Lori Beth Belkin as the older-but-wiser-big-sister-type, plus Amanda-Camille. All four fall in line on “I Will Follow Him” and Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.” Along the way, we follow women into and out of the workplace through a photo montage and commentary about Rosie the Riveter and her return to the kitchen after World War II.
The respect promised in the title emerges in Act II with “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” as civil rights heroine Rosa Parks is highlighted. Introducing Betty Friedan and women’s liberation, Belkin belts out a brassy “You Don’t Own Me,” followed by Contino’s less-than-strident “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” Amanda-Camille’s torrid “I Will Survive” is bookended by “I Am Woman” and “At Seventeen” in which she’s joined by her younger and older “sisters.”
The women are accompanied on Randall Parsons’ colorfully lit set, framing the photo scrapbook, by Steve McCoy’s versatile and vibrant three-piece band. The title song that became Aretha Franklin’s anthem serves as the revue’s stand-up-and-sing-along encore.