'Respect' uses pop music to trace women from codependence to independence

Cast of Respect. Cherry Creek Theatre. Photo by Olga Lopez
From left: Sarah Rex, Rachel Turner, Anna High and Sharon Kay White. Photo by Olga Lopez. Not pictured: Traci Kern.

How a management professor turned a lecture into a musical tracing the story of American women over a century

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

Respect: A Musical Journey of Women started in 2004 as a conference lecture. Fourteen years later, it is a boutique musical that has been performed in 75 cities. It’s a genial evening of wine, women and song — literally. The evening’s host uncorks a bottle and guides four girlfriends through a history lesson covering 100 years of pop music, which she believes parallels the ongoing struggle of American women from co-dependence to independence.

But author Dorothy Marcic, a management professor turned playwright, admits there is something about the show that feels more urgent to her now in the wake of the #MeTooMovement.

“I now see some of the parts of the show differently because of that,” she said. “There are many kinds of abuses women have suffered over the centuries, and now there is more awareness. It is time for us to notice that. But my show was never about blaming men, because we were all socialized in the same way. Now we are all learning how to work together as partners.”  

Respect. Cherry Creek Theatre Photo by John MooreThe Cherry Creek Theatre Company is presenting the Colorado premiere of Respect with an emphatically all-female cast and creative team led by director and choreographer Shannan Steele, a Denver Center favorite whose acting credits include the longest-running musical in Colorado theatre history, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Her cast is deliberately stacked with high-powered local actors who each cover distinct pop-music genres: Sharon Kay White, Sarah Rex, Anna High, Rachel Turner and Musical Director Traci Kern. (White is also headlining two evenings of cabaret at the Aurora Fox on Friday and Sunday, Feb. 16 and 18.) 

(Pictured above and right: Dorothy Marcic and Cherry Creek Theatre co-founder Maxine Rossman. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. Below and right: Sarah Rex and Anna High. Photo by Olga Lopez.)

Marcic, now a professor at Columbia University, attended opening weekend at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center and spoke to audiences afterward. Here are excerpts from her Q&A:

What is a little of your background?

I got my doctorate in organizational behavior, so I became a management professor and conducted hundreds of workshops on assertiveness training. I then became a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Economics in Prague. Four years later, I moved to Nashville to teach at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. That was quite a culture shock. When I lived in Prague, I had season tickets to the Czech National Opera. When I moved to Nashville, I had tickets to Opryland.

How did that lead to the start of creating your show?

Nashville is a music city, so I decided to incorporate music into my seminars. I was always interested in women in leadership. In 1999, I was asked to give a talk about gender equality, and I decided to throw some songs in there because I thought that might help to tell the larger story of women. So I went back and looked at popular music that started around 1900 and it’s all there: From Someone to Watch Over Me to I Will Survive.

When did the lecture become a musical?

Sarah Rex and Anna HighIt was at a conference in 2002 and one of the organizers who ran Cameron Macintosh’s office in New York City said to me, ‘Dorothy, this has some commercial value. You have to develop this into a musical.’ I thought, ‘What do I know about musicals? I am a management professor.’ But I workshopped it with some people in Nashville, and we started getting gigs. I was invited to bring it to South Africa and Israel and New Zealand and Australia and then it got picked up by a commercial producer in 2004. One day I woke up and I said, ‘Oh my God – I am a playwright.’ So I quit my job at Vanderbilt and started taking classes. I got my MFA in playwriting last year. In the meantime, Respect played for two years in Florida, one year in Chicago, and one year in Boston. We opened in New York in October under a different title: This One is for the Girls.

How did you come up with the score that spans Betty Boop to Billie Holiday to Cyndi Lauper to Sara Bareilles?

I did content analysis research looking at how women were depicted in 20,000 top-40 songs. These are songs that were really part of the zeitgeist of the culture. I focused on songs where women are singing, and they had to be top 40. People have asked me, ‘Why don’t you include a group like the Indigo Girls?’ Well they were important, but they never had a top-40 song. For me, every song had to be iconic. So most of the songs were actually Top 10.

And there is something of a sequel playing off-Broadway?

Yes. Sistas The Musical is the African-American variation, and it has now been playing for 6 1/2 years off-Broadway.

What do you want people to take away from this?

In this show, your favorite Top-40 songs lay the soundtrack to real women’s personal stories about finding dreams, lost love, relationship issues, entering the workforce and gaining independence. My goal was to be entertaining but also help change your awareness, which is what theatre is about, isn’t it? Seeing things in a new way.

Respect: A Musical Journey of Women

  • When: Through Feb. 25
  • Showtimes: 7 p.m.Thursdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, Sun @ 2 p.m.; 7:30 p.m. Saturdays. Additional performances 7 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 18 and 25. (No shows on Fridays.)
  • Tickets $35 Adult; $30 Students and Seniors
  • 303-800-6578 or online at www.cherrycreektheatre.org
  • Mizel Arts and Culture Center, 350 S. Dahlia St.

Additional creative team:

  • Susie Snodgrass: Producer
  • Kortney Hanson: Stage Manager
  • Tina Anderson: Scenic Designer
  • Star Pytel: Lighting Designer
  • Steffani Day: Costume Designer
  • Morgan McCauley: Sound Designer
  • Beki Pineda: Prop Mistress
  • Gloria Shanstrom: Publicist



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