George Michael, Sharon Jones Join Dead Rockstars Sing-A-Long Club

Rec Room Arts will put on a self-described musical eulogy for both George Michael and Sharon Jones this summer.EXPAND
Rec Room Arts will put on a self-described musical eulogy for both George Michael and Sharon Jones this summer.
Photo by Stephanie Wittels Wachs

It’s the curse of all rock stars – that their music will live on long after they've left this mortal coil. Lucky for those of us who still mourn our gone-too-soon idols, at least we have a music-filled romp with with Rec Room Arts’ Dead Rockstar Sing-A-Long Club, this time honoring the music of George Michael and Sharon Jones and running July 20 through August 12.

“We’ve billed it as part theater, part concert. It's a musical eulogy honoring the work of those musicians,” says Matt Hune, Rec Room Arts artistic director.

Actors/singers Wesley Whitson, Orlanders Jones and Mahoganee Renee will portray the lead characters, along with a full band, choreography, lighting and costumes. But even though this is a sing-along – and yes, there will be music books for audience members in need of a little help – don’t expect this to be a curated karaoke night.

“We’re not doing those songs as is,” says Hune. “We cast people who we felt could use the voices of that musician, run with it and make it their own. We’re all coming together and making something new from these songs.”

Michael was born in England and rose to fame as a member of Wham! before breaking out as a solo artist. His signature good looks attracted a following, as did his catchy, upbeat songs and versatile voice.

Jones experienced success relatively later in life. Lovingly referred to as the female James Brown, she didn’t release her first album until she was 40, but her funky, soulful music — backed by The Dap-Kings — was enough to earn a Grammy nomination in 2014.

Sharon Jones, portrayed by Mahoganee Renee, rose to fame a little later in life, but she perfectly balanced the funk and soul of the ’70s along with the modern struggles of life, love and happiness.EXPAND
Sharon Jones, portrayed by Mahoganee Renee, rose to fame a little later in life, but she perfectly balanced the funk and soul of the ’70s along with the modern struggles of life, love and happiness.
Photo by Tasha Gorel

Hune says feels both singers have very similar stories in their music, which is what makes them such a good fit for storytelling. Both musicians have a healthy repertoire of songs talking about love, relationships and romance.

Songs like "Faith, "Stranded In Your Love," "Father Figure," "Let Them Knock," "100 Days, 100 Nights," "One More Try" and "Freedom '90" will all be heard in the show, along with a few surprise numbers.

“It’s kind of a concert where we have some visual storytelling. I like to describe it as a live music video. In some respects, that’s kind of what we’re doing," says Hune. "This isn’t a play. It’s not linear; however, there is visual storytelling and some relationship we see happening through the music,” he added.

Most of all, though, the organization just wants people to have a good time.

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"It’s as interactive as you want it to be. You can tap your foot and sing along. With these kinds of artists, everyone knows these songs, and we encourage that kind of celebration if you want to. It’s not a 'sit in the audience and stay silent' kind of show," says Executive Director Stephanie Wittels Wachs.

The inspiration came from a Rec Room Arts show last year built in the same vein. After coming to terms with the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, Hune and Wittels Wachs felt the two stars' music melded together so perfectly that there was enough material for a show.

“There was such an outpouring of public grief that came along with Prince and Bowie,” Wittels Wachs said. “We’re both arts educators, so we used that as a public springboard.”

Now in its second year, the oeuvre delivers good promise, and we can count on future shows in the coming years – we just don’t want to think about what great rock star is going to kick the bucket next.

Dead Rockstar Sing-A-Long Club plays 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from July 20 to August 12 at Rec Room, 100 Jackson Street. For information, call 713-999-9196 or visit recroomarts.org. Free to $20.

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