Originally making its worldwide debut at MetroStage in 2002, Three Sistahs is a poignant story of family relationships that is just as relevant today as when Anton Chekhov wrote The Three Sisters at the turn of the 20th century.
But despite a passing reference to Chekhov in the original program, the similarities end there as Sistahs story writer Janet Pryce and playwright Thomas W. Jones II transform the Russian classic into a contemporary gospel musical that is once again gracing the intimate MetroStage theater.
Set in Washington, D.C., in 1969, the social turmoil following the assassinations of Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy engulfs sisters Olive, Marsha and Irene as they reunite at their childhood home after the funeral of their younger brother Andre, a victim of the Vietnam conflict.
This is the third funeral in three years for the sisters, who have already lost both their mother and father and now have to deal with the disposition of the family home and their own personal struggles of how to carry on amidst their disappointments in life.
Reprising her role as Olive, a single academic who is the eldest of the three sisters, is the internationally acclaimed Bernardine Mitchell, who won the 2005 Helen Hayes Outstanding Lead Actress Award for her role in MetroStages production of Mahalia.
Mitchell is a powerful presence with an unassailable voice, soothing in her soulful ballads and soaring in hilarity in songs like Basement Kind of Love and Barely Breathing.
Television and theater veteran Crystal Fox also returns to MetroStage as Marsha, the melancholy middle sister who has married and moved to Shaker Heights, Ohio, getting everything she thought she wanted and now left pondering why her life is still so unsatisfying.
Rounding out the trio is the multitasking Felicia Curry, who spends her days starring in The Araboolies of Liberty Street at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Md., before transforming herself into Irene, the baby sister with a militant Angela Davis 60s attitude.
The vocal performances of Mitchell, Fox and Curry are astounding, creating musical poetry from the lyrics of Composer and Musical Director William Hubbard, who accompanies the trio on keyboards and varies the score with a mix of gospel, jazz and rhythm and blues.
Not surprisingly, the exceptionally talented ensemble of performers and writers share more than 50 Helen Hayes Award nominations and 15 well-deserved wins between them, and the result is a powerful musical drama that tackles the explosive family dynamics and strained relationships that surface in times of grief.
Award winners on board
Serving also as director and choreographer is the multi-talented Jones, who alone has 42 Helen Hayes nominations and 12 wins to his credit. His collaborations with Hubbard have produced such groundbreaking shows as Bricktop, Two Queens One Castle and Harlem Rose.
Their innovative efforts in Sistahs is augmented by the artistic talents of Jonathan Williamson, the resident scenic designer and technical director for Theatre in the Square in Atlanta, who has crafted a set design that at first glance is simple and unassuming.
But Williamson uses subtle but significant symbols, such as a triangular folded flag, or combat boots and duffle bag, to convey the heartbreak and tragic loss that hangs in the air throughout the show.
Lighting designer Jason Arnold is making his MetroStage debut, deftly using understated changes in illumination to complement the numerous musical transitions in the play that takes place over the course of a single day.
Without a doubt, Sistahs is an alliance of the very best talents that musical theater has to offer, which is what audiences have come to expect from pioneering artistic director Carolyn Griffin. But its sexual content and emotional intensity does make this a show for adults only.