Successful musical got its start at Baha'i conference

1 May 2007
Video: Dorothy Marcic, in pink, poses with singers from one of the casts of "Respect." The singers are, from left, Paulette Dozier, Emily Price, and Jeanette Fitspatrick.

BRISBANE, Australia — Management consultant Dorothy Marcic always tried to make her seminars entertaining as well as informative.

This time she outdid herself.

She took a presentation about the equality of the sexes, filled it with Top 40 songs that reflect the status of women, and made a Broadway-type show out of it.

The musical has played successfully in a half dozen U.S. cities - current runs in Boston, Detroit and Atlanta have been extended - and now it has made its international commercial debut in Australia. Some 600,000 people have seen it, and more are coming each day.

"Respect: A Musical Journey of Women" traces the women's movement through the lyrics of songs - "I Will Follow Him," "Someone To Watch Over Me," "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," "I Am Woman," "I Will Survive," and dozens of others.

The songs span more than a century and illustrate the modern history of women with startling accuracy, says Dr. Marcic, 57, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States.

"The show is about the emerging equality of women," she explains. "At the beginning of the 20th century, the songs show women who are all pretty codependent."

By the time the century ended, many songs were about strength and independence -- "Hero" by Mariah Carey, "Independent Woman" by Destiny's Child, "A Woman's Worth" by Alicia Keys.

In between, Dr. Marcic says, came stages of anger and rebellion ("You Don't Own Me" by Leslie Gore, "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" by Nancy Sinatra) and cynicism ("Material Girl" by Madonna).

2 images
The lyrics of Top 40 hits accurately chronicle the women's movement, according to Dorothy Marcic, who wants audiences to have fun as they listen to all the songs she compiled.

In the musical, Dr. Marcic makes it all fun, but she does have genuine academic credentials. A faculty member at Vanderbilt University before devoting herself full-time to the musical, she has written 11 books, including "Respect: Women and Popular Music."

One reviewer called it a "highly creative book that uses the musical history of women throughout the past century as a springboard to synthesize cultural, political and world events, as well as business, psychology, and spirituality."

Baha'i conference

Dr. Marcic, whose doctorate is in organizational behavior and communication, is a member of the Baha'i Faith, a key principle of which is the equality of men and women. A presentation for a Baha'i conference in Florida in 1999 was the genesis of the musical. She was already experimenting with music in her seminars and decided to expand on the idea, putting the songs front and center for that appearance.

The Florida audience "went crazy," she recounts. When people demanded a repeat performance, "I realized I was onto something."

Over the next several years, Dr. Marcic developed what originally was a one-woman show - she was the woman - into a four-person musical with professional singers. Several producers purchased rights to the show for different U.S. cities, and when a top Australian producer saw a performance in Boston, he signed on, too.

Dr. Marcic looks at "Respect: A Musical" as a means of communicating to many people one of her key religious beliefs - that women and men are equal in the sight of God.

"It's kind of my way of bringing the spirit of the Baha'i Faith to a larger audience," she says. "Music is so powerful."

Throughout her career she has tried to combine an appeal to the intellect with an appeal to the emotions. The musical, she says, does this.

Reviewers agree. "A soaring message of strength and confidence shines through by the final moments, leaving the audience with a lasting smile and a connection to (the) characters - women of their past and potential role models for the future," wrote Stephanie Angelyn Casola in Detroit, where the director is Hinton Battle, winner of three Tony Awards including best actor for "Miss Saigon."

Christine Howey of Cleveland Scene, wrote: "This time the You go, girl! shouts are being triggered by a musical march through the 20th century, tracing the travails and triumphs of women as they have clawed their way from second-class citizenship to empowerment. ... Imaginative staging and a relentlessly effusive cast make it all work disarmingly well."

"Respect" is now more than half-way through its eight-week run in Brisbane, Australia, and tickets are being sold for performances elsewhere in Australia and in New Zealand. Future plans include Minneapolis and Green Bay in the U.S., England and possibly Ireland. Negotiations are under way for 20 more countries.

People often ask Dr. Marcic if the show will ever make it to Broadway. She has sold the rights for New York City to a producer, but at the moment there are no particular plans.

'Respect' Down Under

The Australian producer, Jim McPherson, who has some 400 previous shows to his credit, was enthusiastic about "Respect" from the moment he saw it.

"I loved the music, I loved the treatment of the music, I loved the story," said Mr. McPherson, who with co-producer Michael Lasky and the production company GFOUR put up his own money for the Australian version. The songs in the show are well known in Australia, he said, but the narrative was altered to appeal to local audiences.

"The music transcends boundaries," he said. He noted that Dr. Marcic's creation is family entertainment, unlike the risque - and hugely popular - "Menopause, the Musical," which he also brought to Australia.

"'Respect' is definitely more powerful, more empowering, more respectful of women," Mr. McPherson said, explaining that it illustrates how over the past century, women have gone from being afraid of and subservient to men, to being equal and independent.

"That interests me no end," said Mr. McPherson, who is the father of five - four of them daughters. On top of that, he said, the show is fun.

"It's a joyous night in the theater," he said.