FORT WORTH The loss of a microphone is not usually a good thing at a musical.
But a technical malfunction turned out to be a lucky break for the audience at Simply Etta, DVA Productions' one-woman tribute to Etta James which opened at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center on Friday.
Some of tunes sung early in the show by star Sheran Goodspeed Keyton were badly marred by harsh electronic pops and crackles emanating from a microphone with issues.
But, fortunately, the offending mike was soon cut off and we were able to enjoy Keyton's takes on some James classics in all their unaided glory. When the amplification was working, it filled the room well but, because of The speakers' location, it gave the audience the odd sensation of hearing Keyton's voice from behind while she was standing in front of us.
The show was much better without the juice because Keyton, who was flawlessly supported by keyboardist and musical director Joe Rogers, had no problem being heard. Her wonderful pipes could easily rattle the walls of a room twice the size as the cozy confines of the art center's Sanders Theatre. Let us hope they never fix that mike.
This biographical musical tribute is a perfect show for Keyton and Rogers and they both make the absolute most of the material. The piano and organ work by Rogers on opening night was impeccably sculpted. And Keyton, who never allowed the sound problems to rattle her, was fabulous in the guise of the versatile rhythm and blues singer who passed away in January, just five days short of her 74th birthday.
It would be hard to pick any one standout among the wide range of James classics sampled, because Keyton did them all so well. But her versions of Take My Hand, Precious Lord (the only gospel number offered) and the closing song, James' mega hit At Last, were certainly among the more memorable efforts.
It was no surprise that Keyton nailed the vocals -- she has proven her abilities in that area numerous times. The songs alone probably would have been enough to deem the show a success. But what was a bit unexpected was the quality of the script by Dianne Tucker, Keyton's acting performance and the importance of the direction by former Jubilee Theatre artistic director Ed Smith.
Usually, the director doesn't have much to do in a one-actor show. But it is obvious that Keyton and Smith worked hard to hone the character as sharply as the tunes. Keyton gives us a highly believable, conversational take on the singer that carries the honesty of the text exceedingly well, without ignoring James' use of drugs or her salty vocabulary. And I expect all but the most ardent fans of James will learn some surprising new things about the singer, whose life spills out of a string of anecdotes bridged with songs.
So this show was a great choice for a trio of artists who know one another well. Its only flaw is that it is a bit long. But it is hard to get too much of Keyton's voice. Especially without that darned microphone.