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SIMPLY ETTA - Tucker's Blues

Written, Directed, and Starring Sheran Goodspeed Keyton

Amphibian Stage Productions

Musical Accompaniment by Alejandro Serrano Ayuso

Reviewed Performance: 1/23/2011

Reviewed by Kristopher A. Harrison, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

From the moment you walk in to Tucker's Blues, a small, dark, blues club in Deep Ellum, you know that this is the kind of place where special things can happen. Tucked away in a back alley of the local birthplace of blues, you get the feeling that this is the kind of place where legendary people get discovered. And Simply Etta is just such a discovery: surprising, enjoyable, and at times amazing.

Simply Etta, originally conceived as a tribute to iconic singer Etta James, uses the actual words of Etta James taken directly from her autobiography, the liner notes of her albums, and transcripts from interviews to form the basis of this biographical musical. Singer and actress Sheran Goodspeed Keyton marvelously brings to life this portrait of the troubled musician, guiding the audience through a powerhouse performance of acting and singing.

Whenever you go to see a one-person show, you never really know what you are going to get. Everything rests on the abilities of the lone performer. If he/she is good, then you are in for a wonderful experience. If, however the lone performer is bad, you are in for a very, very long night.

From the moment that Sheran Goodspeed Keyton first opens her mouth, this audience knows we won't be disappointed. Her confident swagger and her phenomenal singing voice grabs our attention and our admiration right from the start. Better yet, this seasoned performer kept the audience in her grip, making us laugh along with her, cry along with her, and even sing along with her.

Etta James, best known for her trademark song "At Last," was in the news this past year, as it was revealed that she suffers from Alzheimer's disease. You may recall her biting criticism aimed at Beyonce when Beyonce sang "At Last" at Obama's inaugural ball. Her family later apologized, blaming her fierce comments on the dementia. Simply Etta begins at this point, with the aging Ms. James looking back on various episodes in her life. Keyton uses some of Etta James most recognizable songs to weave an emotional tapestry telling the story of her troubled childhood, her drug addiction, and her abusive relationships.

Through it all, we root for Etta, because Keyton portrays her so well. There is never a moment in which she falters or misses a beat. Keyton has a broad emotional range as an actress, and she paints an intimate portrait of a troubled soul. She brings us gut wrenching dramatic moments as she delves deep into the musician's painful past memories. She also brings us joyful, hilarious moments that celebrate James' highpoints. But the main reason we love Ms. Keyton so much is because of her powerhouse voice.

The show is as much blues concert as it is dramatic monologue, and she brought the house to its feet song after song. Backed by Ayuso on the piano (who has his own moments to shine in some fantastic solo work), Keyton belts out gospel, soulful R&B, and blues that seems to be rooted in all the drama of Ms. James' real life struggles. I left wondering where I could buy the album.

If you love blues, this show is a must see. It is a hidden gem of a performance.

SIMPLY ETTA at Tucker's Blues
2617 Commerce Street, Dallas, TX 75226

Sundays and Mondays only - January 30th-31st,
February 7th & Feb. 13th-14th-All at 7:30 pm

Run time approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
$10 cover charge-cash bar. Call 214-744-2583 for tickets.