The show is titled “Decades of Divas,” and they really mean it: Songs associated with everyone from Billie Holiday to Adele are part of it.
Many of the other artists saluted can be identified by their first names only: Ella, Etta, Aretha, Tina, Dolly, Janis, Celine, Whitney, Barbra, Madonna.
The new jukebox musical debuts Nov. 8 at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, with Lisa Sherman getting top billing, but four other talented Jersey singers — Layonne Holmes, Reagan Richards, Eryn Shewell and Jilly Sentillo — in it, too. There is also a show scheduled for the Strand Center for the Arts in Lakewood on Feb. 21.
If all goes well, there may be a lot more shows, as well.
Franke Previte — formerly of the Jersey rock band Franke & the Knockouts and best known for co-writing the Academy Award-winning “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” from the movie “Dirty Dancing” — co-created and is executive producing the show.
“Really, the inspiration for it was, one day I was at a concert in Point Pleasant,” says Previte. “There were a couple of thousand people on the beach. And this performer, Lisa Sherman, got up on stage with all these different performers — there were four or five of them that evening — and she just had a stage presence and was able to have the audience embrace her, before she even sang. They were kind of rooting for her to be good before she even started.
“And then when she was really good, everyone was on their feet, giving her like three standing ovations, for her three songs. So I was thinking, I’ve got to talk to this person. How come I don’t know about this person?”
Previte found out from her that she was a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette, had done three or four Broadway shows, and also had had her own TV show in New Zealand. She also said she does an annual show at the Basie, and that the one planned for this year was called “Decades of Divas.”
She was planning it as a straightforward concert, but Previte immediately had a vision of a more elaborate presentation.
“I see two nightclubs onstage,” he says he told her. “I see a jazz nightclub on one side, I see a rock nightclub on the other, and in between them, the street that divides them, I see that as Memory Lane. And I see a big screen at the end of Memory Lane that flashes footage of Billie Holiday, Ella, Etta, Aretha, and (other singers) throughout the decades, all the way up to the present day.”
His vision was also for a number of different singers, not just her, to handle lead vocals.
“You spend an evening with your friends,” he told her. “And you bring the audience into your living room, into the club with you. And you don’t go up there and try to sound just like them. You celebrate them: This is what we got from these divas, throughout the decades. They passed the torch, from decade to decade, and now you pass the torch to each other, to make each other better singers.”
Sherman liked the idea, so they developed the show together, with Sherman recommending the other singers. They also hired a director/choreographer, David M. Beris, and an all-star group of Jersey musicians, such as drummer Joe Bellia and guitarist Ralph Notaro, to back the divas.
Previte says he will film the Nov. 8 show, and try to get more bookings with the footage.
Here is Sherman singing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” at the Basie in 2012: