Sista's and Storytellers

This is not a play, and it's not exactly a cabaret act, either; it's sort of a cross between a slumber party and a church service. The premise: A group of women who sang together as children in a choir called the Heavenly Voices comes together for a reunion. They drink a little, nibble a little, discuss their romances and discover that friendship is a great healer. And also that any support friends can't provide will be supplied by Jesus Christ. The dialogue is vague and general, the tech minimal and the acting broad, but the evening is filled with music and song, and the voices of the six performers — though distorted and over-miked, as is always the case at the New Denver Civic — provide every reason you'll ever need for a trek to the theater.

Sista¹s and Storytellers is the brainchild of songstresses Sheryl Renee and CoCo Brown, who wrote a script based on their own life experiences and with the idea of celebrating their longtime friendship. Famed Denver chanteuse Hazel Miller came on board as producer. There's a friendly, improvisational quality to the event that makes the audience feel like part of the action. You can tell that these women love working together, and the atmosphere they create is infectious.

Yvonne Brown plays Twoey, who carries her Bible in place of a purse and quotes from it constantly. The other women tease her a little, though it's clear that they, too, are deeply religious. Brown has a beautiful speaking as well as singing voice, low and smooth, and her rendition of Bill Withers's "Grandma's Hands" is lovely, as is "I Forgive You," the number she performs in the first act, though the words and melody are forgettable. Sheryl Renee is a complete charmer on stage, with a beautiful smile and a sound that would lift anyone's heart. And Hazel Miller, whose Sixxy comes across as just a little more worldly, ironic and cynical than the others, stops the show whenever she moves into the spotlight. Then there's Shelly Lindsey as Threesa. She saves her singing for the very end of the show, but when she cuts loose on "Trouble in My Way," you wish she'd started much earlier and never intended to stop. CoCo Brown is one hell of a vocalist, too, and Linda Theus-Lee provides a deep, reverberating sound and some moments of comedy. The live band is under the direction of H. Bee Boisseau.

A Jewish agnostic, I am not the intended audience for this show. Demonstrations of religious faith trouble me. I once respected religion, admired the faithful and loved the music, art and ritual inspired by Christianity. The Church of England — the only church I was familiar with growing up in London — was somewhat ineffectual but unquestionably benign, concerning itself with social justice, the well-being of the poor and the dissemination of a general sense of modesty and decency. But with the organized power of the Christian right in America, I'm now more apt to associate religion with attempts to impose theocracy; attacks on books, free speech, science and reason; and a desire to promote a bloodbath in the Middle East in the service of an incoherent event called the Rapture. Obviously, the far right doesn't represent all Christians, but it has made frightening inroads. The Supreme Court seems on course to deny a woman's right to abortion, and in poll after poll, over 50 percent of Americans say they don't believe in evolution.

The faith expressed in Sista's and Storytellers is obviously sincere. I admire it; I enjoy the way it's expressed in song. But nonetheless, it leaves me on the outside looking in.

On the evening I attended, a friend of mine was enduring a painful medical crisis, and he was very much on my mind. When these six amazing women rose to sing together, their voices soaring and intertwining, joy coursing through their bodies and faces, I wished for one dazed moment that they could somehow materialize in my friend's living room — because it seemed as if the power and exultation they exuded would simply drive out misery and sickness. If all of American Christianity were like this, I thought, I'd be a convert on the spot.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman