Show Redefines the Diva

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(Photo provided)

Calling All Divas, a jukebox show featuring original songs and classics from the likes of Carole King, Aretha Franklin and Miley Cyrus, opens at the Keswick Theatre on Mar. 2.

Featuring a quartet called The Un4gettables, the show was co-created by one of the singers, Lisa Sherman, and Academy Award-winning songwriter Franke Previte of Dirty Dancing fame. The show is directed by Michael LaFleur, a veteran of Las Vegas stage shows, among other venues.

The show tells the story of a producer and four women who compete to become superstars, all in service of saving a legendary nightclub.

For Sherman, co-creator of the show and one of its stars, the show is the summation of everything she’s spent her career doing.

In true diva fashion, Sherman declines to disclose her age.

“Let’s just say I’m old enough to say ‘no’ to that question. I am ageless. I am an ageless diva,” she laughed.

The Rumson, N.J., native grew up as one of the handful of Jews in her town, singing and dancing from a young age. She joined her first dance company at 15, and went to Adelphi University to study dance. Right after school, she left for New York, where she’s performed on and off since — as a Rockette, and as a personal trainer sponsored by Nike on the side, for good measure.

Calling All Divas began as Songbird, which featured Sherman alone singing the songs of the divas she had grown to love, starting with divas of the ’30s and ’40s and going to the likes of Bonnie Raitt. If Raitt isn’t your idea of a diva, well, Sherman has an answer for that.

“A diva can be many different definitions,” she said. “A diva can be something that you feel within in yourself. A diva can be the best that you are. A diva is a confidence. A diva is an excitement. A diva is a sharing concept. Whatever you have inside your soul, whatever you want to offer, you can share to others. … A true diva is someone who has this inner energy, and this inner excitement, and this inner talent. Whatever talent it may be, you could be a sports person, you could be a theatrical person, you could be someone who is an artist. We’re all divas.”

After performing Songbird for a while, a friend of hers suggested that she switch up the concept a bit to keep everything fresh, leading to a similar show called Decades of Divas. A chance meeting with Previte led to yet another discussion that went beyond a new title, Calling All Divas, but to Previte himself becoming involved with the production. He and the rest of the creative team joined then, reworking the show to add in other singers — Carol Riddick, Trenna Barnes and Brittneyann Accetta — while still creating space for the distinctive Lisa Sherman-ness of the original.

The show, she said, is about “unity, tension, friendship, love, belief, teamwork and girl power,” though not necessarily in that order. “I want people to walk away feeling better than when they walked in the door.” One of the ways that is achieved for Sherman is getting to sing her big show-stopper toward the end of the second act, though she won’t reveal what it is.

Lindsay Rush knows the feeling.

Originally from Northeast Philadelphia, Rush is a songwriter living in Los Angeles. Two of her songs, “Just Trying To Matter” and “Can You Dance In The Rain?” are included in the show, the result of — what else? — a chance encounter with Previte, just a few months ago.

Rush started writing songs “obsessively” when her family moved from the Northeast to New Hope midway through her sophomore year of high school. Though she’d always been around music — her father has been in bands her whole life, and her mother was a wedding singer for decades — it took the upheaval of leaving all her friends to really spur her to action.

“I needed something that was mine and a place I could go, and I really feel like songwriting is a place,” she said.

Rush describes her musical sensibility as being like “Lillith Fair, and then also Spice Girls,” which would seem to suit her well for Calling All Divas. Sticking to Sherman’s definition of diva-ness (divatude?), she sees songwriting as a way to speak truth to the world, truths that she learned growing up about what it meant to be a Jew, she said. Honesty, she said, is the most important trait for a song.

It’s all in the service of uplift. “I like to bring light to the world, because it’s so dark,” she said.

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