West Coast Black Theater founder and artistic director Nate Jacobs dreams of making a signature female musical revue, since he’s done for one for the troupe’s male artists. Girl Groups takes a giant step toward meeting that ambition with its coverage and celebration of “The 60s Explosion” of the talents of groups of African-American songstresses. They went beyond previous but rare victories by individual women to open up music industry success previously experienced only by male groups to female ones.
After a lively Overture, a recorded narration by Nate Jacobs introduces the subject and beginnings of a historical account of female musical groups. A big sound accompanies the entrance of the Company of four in fuchsia silky, sleeveless, flair-out skirted dresses set off by pearl jewelry with a rhinestone circle to one side of each waist. Their typically ‘60s “dress up” includes short white gloves and pumps; their hair’s done up in beehives.
In the very back are mirrored panels behind the band. Down steps to the song-singing-and-dancing stage, muted colors from the performers’ clothes are picked up by the panels. Onstage, the Girls are also lit from above by colored lights, two small chandeliers, and — sometimes — a revolving mirrored ball.
The ‘60s definitely come from the end of the ‘50s as the four women go “Dancin’ in The Street” and “Shake a Tail Feather.” From here on, they themselves undertake the historical narrative between numbers.
Khadija Sallet, backed by the other three gals, and JoAnna Ford, the other younger one backed by three, alternate as leads for such songs as “One Fine Day” and “He’s So Fine” for starters. Ariel Blue “stars” in “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” followed by Syretta Banks, the other more mature singer, as a lead on “Dedicated to the One I Love.” Pairings of two younger singers and the two older ones take place throughout the program to add bits of drama.
The Supremes’s and The Shirelles’s styles and their hits occupy most of Act I. Among the latter, dancing is highlighted in “The Wah-Watusi” and comedy by “Needle in a Haystack” which had the audience spontaneously clapping. “Dedicated to the One I Love” (sweetly sung by Syretta Banks) and “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” (done by JoAnna Ford) are dramatic, as are Ariel Blue’s lead in the wind-ups “Don’t Mess with Bill” and “Too Many Fish in the Sea.”
Sheaths of rhinestones tied over by green taffeta slit skirts are Act II’s change of costume, helping lights and music establish “Heat Wave,” the opening song. The Marvellettes and The Shangri-Las join the groups celebrated. Most popular numbers here: “My Baby Loves Me,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” the full company’s “Someday We’ll Be Together,” and — toward the end — ”River Deep, Mountain High” and “Proud Mary” led alternately by Syretta and Ariel.
Costumes continue to mirror changes in the subjects and moods of the songs. Removal of the green taffeta over-skirts make the stage shine. Earth-toned costumes mark changes to subjects involving nature. Finally the women appear in red sequined gowns that shine like the “Sweet Inspiration” that produced the show. Its reception by the audience should encourage Nate Jacobs happily to develop the feminine theme — perhaps even beyond the ‘60s groups — as he seeks to create a signature female revue for his troupe.