‘Sistas: The Musical’ shines a light on black music and black history

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The story of a five women’s bond and a family’s history as shared through some of the most timeless music of the last 100 years, “Sistas” is the work of playwright Dorothy Marcic. Produced by three-time Tony winner, Hinton Battle and directed by Kenneth Ferrone, the production became a sensation after a successful run at the Midtown International Theatre Festival.

The story centers on five women: sisters Gloria, Simone and Roberta, their white sister-in-law Heather and Simone’s daughter, Tamika; they discuss their family’s complex history. In preparation for the funeral of the family matriarch, they revisit the pleasure and pain in their mother’s history, their own childhoods and the complex relationships they have with each other today. Their stories are told through the popular music that provided their lives’ soundtrack. From Billie Holiday to Patti LaBelle, from The Supremes to Kelis—the music and the performances of the five leads effectively convey the ups and downs of their African American womanhood. Youthful Tamika (Lexi Rhoades) sits and learns family history and life lessons from her mother, the pragmatic Simone (Badia Farha), as well as her aunts; Bible-thumping Gloria (Tracey Conyer Lee), the rebellious Roberta (Jennifer Fouche) and the well-meaning but naïve Heather (Amy Goldberger.)

Rhoades praises the production for its effective portrayal of black women via four very different personalities. “I think it’s very effective [because] they all exist,” she says. “We’re very careful not to do caricatures of those archetypes. It’s so important to bring the integrity of the black woman to each facet.”

For Badia Farha, who recently joined the cast as Simone after the departure of longtime cast member April Nixon, the play’s musical variety immediately caught her attention. “I walked past the theater one day casually and saw the flier up and read that the music had Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, Beyonce and Alicia Keys and [I said] ‘What is this?’ It sounded so interesting. I [knew] that was a show I’d love to do. The music really drew me in.”

Fouche is the only original cast member currently still with the production. Her Roberta character is, in many ways the heart and soul of the story. “Women come up to me after seeing ‘Sistas’  and say, ‘I went through that or I know someone that went through that’ and they tell me, ‘Thank you because you did it honestly.’ It has to be real [because] that’s real for somebody. And in ‘Sistas,’ every one of these stories is real.”

“It’s an American story,” says Farha. “It’s a story about black Americans. I think the younger generation is lacking the [knowledge] of their heritage. This show pulls from it. You have the older sisters teaching the young one. This isn’t just the story of an African American family but African American families.” Rhoades echoes that sentiment. “I think everybody learned something from this show–every single actor.”

“There are very few majority black casts on Broadway,” Fouche shares. “That means something to me, as a black actor and as a woman. There’s something very spiritual about getting a group of women together.”

 

Stereo Williams
Stereo Williams

Todd "Stereo" Williams, entertainment writer based in New York City. He co-founded Thirty 2 Oh 1 Productions, an indie film company.



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