Hailed as the “Godmother of Rock ‘n Roll,” Sister Rosetta Tharpe influenced rock icons from Elvis Presley to Jimi Hendrix. Bringing fierce guitar playing and sizzling swing to gospel music, Rosetta was a trailblazer, a young Black woman singing at church in the morning and the Cotton Club at night. This play with music chronicles Rosetta’s first rehearsal with a young protégée, Marie Knight, as they prepare for a tour that would establish them as one of the great duet teams in musical history.

Run time approximately 110 minutes.

 

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CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

by Catey Sullivan

‘Marie & Rosetta’ soars on the musical wings of rock ’n’ roll, gospel pioneer

Early on in the dramatically rich, musically irresistible “Marie and Rosetta,” actor Bethany Thomas — playing “godmother of rock ’n’ roll” Sister Rosetta Tharpe — unleashes a pile-driving rendition of the bluesy, soulful “This Train.”

It’s a finale-intense showstopper, but after the last, clarion call chorus, Rosetta insists she’s just getting warmed up. And so she is.

Directed by E. Faye Butler, playwright George Brant’s two-hander features one powerhouse number after another, each one building on the previous until the Northlight Theatre production seems to be vibrating with a joyful noise.

…Marie Knight and Rosetta Tharpe provided the foundation for rock ’n’ roll. They also gifted the world with the foundation for this can’t-miss show.

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LET’S PLAY

by Rick McCain

There are only a few times when you will witness a theatrical performance that is so captivating and enthralling that it will knock your socks off. A performance that will tug at your soul, bring laughter and tears, and have you walking away feeling historically blessed. With the brilliant direction of E. Faye Butler, Northlight Theatre has captured this in their current play, Marie and Rosetta.

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NEW CITY

by Mary Wisniewski

The casting couldn’t be better. Both Roston and Thomas are physical matches for their historic characters as well as fine actresses. Both their solo singing and harmonizing are gorgeous. Roston portrayed Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” earning the Jeff, Black Theater Alliance and Black Excellence Awards. Thomas won a Jeff for her performance as Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Holiday and Maria Callas in the one-woman show “Songs for Nobodies.” The brilliant Morgan E. Stevenson is the music director and pianist.

No head mics were needed for these powerful singers. Their performances were so moving that during a scene in which a distraught Marie struggles to play the piano, an audience member called out “Take your time, now.” As if we were really there, in that Deep South funeral home seventy-seven years ago. It’s a performance full of joy.

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Evanston Roundtable

by Cissy Lacks

Northlight production is ‘pure energy and delight’

…the power and appeal of Marie and Rosetta is in the concert performances of the two characters: Tharpe is played by Bethany Thomas and Marie Knight by Alexis J. Roston.

Thomas is full of vim and vigor with a powerhouse voice. Roston begins as shy, sweet and reluctant but soon emerges as a vocal and charismatic match for Thomas.

Together, they completely capture and hold the audience, belting out songs from blues history: This Train, Rock Me in the Cradle of Your Love, I Looked Down the Line and Strange Things Happen Every Day,the last being one of the songs most recognized for Tharpe’s influence on rock and roll music.

…This play is powerful. Thomas and Roston are dynamic and talented entertainers. The music and songs are an important part of gospel and blues history and they dominate the evening.

Followers of Sister Rosetta Thorpe will say Marie and Rosetta is a tribute long overdue. Newcomers will leave with an appreciation of blues and gospel they could not have imagined.

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Chicago Tribune

by Emily McClanathan

It’s a slow-burning play that surreptitiously winds its way around your heartstrings, then gives a mighty tug.

Thomas and Roston shine in these musically demanding roles, with Thomas’ bluesy tone and gravelly low notes complementing Roston’s soaring vibrato and clarion riffs. Music director and pianist Morgan E. Stevenson and guitarist Larry Brown provide accompaniment offstage as the actors mime with their instruments. I’ve rarely seen this arrangement work so well; in particular, Thomas and Brown were so synchronized that I had to check my program to make sure that there was, in fact, an offstage guitarist… Late in the play, there’s a shocking twist that would be a shame to spoil, but I will say that this paradigm shift casts the entire show in a different light. Frankly, it’s been a while since I shed tears so unexpectedly in a theater. I could hear from nearby audience members that I wasn’t the only one thus affected by the play’s final moments, which are tenderly directed and performed.

Read the full review.

Cast

bethany-thomas
Bethany Thomas

Rosetta

Bethany is beyond thrilled to make her Northlight debut and to finally share space with you all again. Credits include Into the Woods, A Moon for the Misbegotten (Writers Theater); Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Songs For Nobodies, The Color Purple (Milwaukee Rep); The Tempest (Chicago Shakespeare); Marry Me a Little (Porchlight Music Theater); and Porgy and Bess (Court Theater). She’s also frequently entangled with The Neo Futurists, Steppenwolf, Second City, The Fly Honeys, The Paper Machete, and The Hideout. As a singer/songwriter, BT tours and records with Jon Langford, and recently released an album with Tawny Newsome entitled Material Flats, and a solo album entitled BT/She/Her. Find Bethany’s music on iTunes, Bandcamp, Spotify, and everywhere else. Love to Rob. @bethanyt80

alexis-roston
Alexis Roston

Marie

Time Out Chicago calls her “phenomenal,” and Showbiz Chicago raves “Roston holds the audience in the palm of her hand.” Actress, director and playwright Alexis J. Roston earned acclaim for her mesmerizing portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, including Chicago’s Jeff Award, a Black Theater Alliance Award and the Black Excellence Award. Other credits nationwide include starring in Don’t Make Me Over— A Tribute to Dionne Warwick (Jeff Award Nomination, Black Theater Alliance Award Nomination), Mary Poppins (Mrs. Banks), Porgy and Bess (Bess), Ragtime (Sarah), Sister Act (Delores), For Colored Girls… (Lady in Orange), Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Charlaine), Shrek: The Musical (Dragon), The Wiz (Addaperle), The Piano Lesson (Grace), Crowns (Jeanette), Company (Sarah), Godspell (Joanne), Smokey Joe’s Café (Brenda), Jesus Christ Superstar, The Color Purple, Hair, Hairspray, She the People with Second City Chicago and the world premiere of The Secret of My Success. Concerts include First Lady of Song: Alexis J Roston Sings Ella Fitzgerald. An ensemble member of Congo Square Theatre, Roston served as director and playwright of A Nativity Story: More Than A Miracle. Television: Chicago PD, Chicago Code, and The Chi. She holds a BFA in musical theatre from Howard University. She is a proud member of AEA and Congo Square Theatre Company and represented by Paonessa Talent Agency.

Production Team

John Culbert

Set Design

John previously designed Northlight productions of White Guy on the Bus, Faceless, and Grey Gardens. Other recent Chicago scenic and lighting design credits include: Gospel at Colonus, Arsenic and Old Lace, Oedipus Rex, The Adventures of Augie March (Court); The Chinese Lady, Chimerica and Juno (TimeLine); Villette (Lookingglass); Objects in the Mirror and Having Our Say (Goodman) and Twelfth Night and Arcadia (Writers Theatre).  Regional credits include productions with Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Long Wharf, Berkeley Repertory, McCarter and Shakespeare Theatre Company. Other projects include the lighting design for the Chicago Park District’s Buckingham Fountain. Mr. Culbert served as Dean of The Theatre School at DePaul University for over 20 years.

Rick Sims

Sound Design

Rick has composed and designed sound for numerous Chicago-area theaters, including Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, Northlight, Congo Square, Writers, Lifeline, Griffin, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Court, American Blues, Victory Gardens and Steep. Regional credits include Arena Stage and Roundhouse Theatre in Washington D.C., Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, South Coast Rep in Southern California, The Getty, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia, 2nd Stage and Playwrights Horizons in New York City, Actors Theatre of Louisville and Portland Playhouse. He is an artistic associate of Lookingglass, an artistic affiliate with American Blues and is currently composing music for The Thanksgiving Play at 2nd Stage Theatre on Broadway. Sims won a Jeff Award for sound design for Lookingglass’ Moby Dick, Frankenstein, and Hepheastus, and a BTA award for Congo Squares Brothers In the Dust. Sims also wrote the book, music and lyrics for Lookingglass Hillbilly Antigone.

Lonnae Hickman

Properties Design

Rita Vreeland

Stage Manager

Rita Vreeland has been a frequent stage manager at Northlight since 2007, with Selling Kabul marking her 43rd production here. Other favorite recent projects include Ernest Shackleton Loves Me at Porchlight Music Theatre, A Christmas Carol at Drury Lane, The Luckiest at Raven Theatre, three years of The Polar Express Train Ride, and productions at Mercury Theatre, Victory Gardens, Route 66 Theatre Company, Theatre at the Center, and The Galway International Arts Festival in Galway, Ireland. She is the proud wife of actor Tom Hickey and mom to ten-year-old Charlie, and this year she celebrated her 22nd anniversary as a member of Actors’ Equity Association. Thank you for supporting live theatre!

McKinley Johnson

Costume Design

Jared Gooding

Light Design

Sean Moore

Wig Design

Morgan E. Stevenson

Music Director/PIano

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Accessible Performances

July 26 at 7:30 pm: Relaxed/Sensory Friendly Performance

July 28 at 8:00 pm: ASL Interpretation and Open Captions

July 29 at 2:30 pm: Audio Description and Open Captions

 

SENSORY GUIDE

This guide holds many different accessibility tools to make your experience at our show as comfortable as possible. Please be aware that not every element of this guide will be useful to each individual, therefore, please feel free to pick and choose which accessibility tools would be most beneficial to you. The guide includes a synopsis of the show, sensory warnings, and photos of what to expect when you arrive at the theater.

Marie and Rosetta Sensory Guide

For more information or questions about Captioning, ASL Interpretation, or Audio Description please contact Ruben Carrazana: 847.324.1615 or rcarrazana@northlight.org.

Visit our Accessibility Page for more information for our whole season.