Opens Feb. 7th at the Loew’s Jersey City
February 7th show is sold out -a second show is being added at a later date
By Sally Deering
Before Beyoncé, and Madonna, Mariah, Aretha and the all-girl groups of the 1960s, there was The Carmelettes, a trio of teen Jersey girls from the Marion section of Jersey City who sang original pop tunes in tight harmonies. It was 1959, and the girls Angela LaPrete, Vicky Cevetello and Virginia Verga recorded two songs, “My Foolish Heart” and “Promise Me a Rose.” A year later, they cut two more records, “Aching for You” and “Something Tells Me I’m in Love.”
It’s a Jersey City tale that would be long forgotten if not for Susan Murphy, Angela LaPrete’s daughter, a professional singer herself who wrote a play with music about her mother’s experience in “GIRL GROUP: A Daughter’s Tale” to be presented at the Loew’s Jersey City in Journal Square – just blocks from where The Carmelettes were born – on Sat, Feb. 7 at 7 pm. (Tix $20 at www.brownpapertickets.com). A reception follows.
The piece features Murphy along with Tom Cappadona, Elisabeth Ness, Alison Scaramella, and Jenna Sofia. It’s directed by Mario Giacalone with vocal direction by Diane Garisto of Brooklyn. The show is produced by Steven Minichiello, Murphy’s close friend who also grew up in Jersey City’s Marion section. Murphy originally produced the musical in 2011 at LaMaMa in Manhattan.
“I always felt like the show had more life in it,” Murphy says. “Sometimes you do those shows, and it’s like great, did it, done. This show is different. The audience loved it. We loved working on it. It has something.”
Murphy describes the piece as, a performance memoir about doo-wop and dreams deferred. It’s a play with music about mothers and daughters, uncelebrated lives and the extraordinary talents that lie hidden within them. The main character played by Murphy is a singer who goes back 50 years to her mother’s life as a member of a successful girl group. Murphy calls the piece an “Alice-through-the-looking-glass” adventure where the singer reclaims her mother’s legacy and, in doing so, creates her own.
“When I was 15, I started writing my own material,” Murphy says, “and somehow I knew I was going to come to this story at some point in my life.”
THREE GIRLS WITH A VOICE
The songs are recreations of what The Carmelettes recorded. Some of the music was by Beatrice Verde, the older sister of one of the girls and the driving force behind the group, Murphy says.
“She didn’t sing but she wrote, arranged and played,” Murphy says.
Beatrice Verde had tremendous ambition and went on to write for Motown. Murphy describes her as the Svengali of the group.
“I think of that time, 1957-196, girls just didn’t do that” Murphy says. “It’s before the Ronettes, the Supremes. It pre-dates the girl groups. We had a rehearsal the other day that was so good, it made me realize how good these girls really were. They started the group when they were 14. Here we are professionals struggling as we pick apart the harmonies. These girls were only 14 and they were singing it.”
To get the girl group sound just right, Murphy asked her good friend Diane Garisto to be vocal director. Garisto sings professionally and has been a back-up singer for superstars like Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Laura Nyro, Steely Dan and Neil Sedaka. Having worked as a backup singer, Garisto knows how important it is to get the singers playing The Carmelettes to harmonize perfectly.
“Street corner doo-wop is what all these songs are about,” Garisto says. “I’m sort of keeper of the harmony. It’s my job. There’s something about being a singer in a group. There’s a skill to singing that, these songs, these girls really blended in harmony. That’s why Susan called me. It’s different from being a lead singer.”
THE PLAY’S THE THING
Because the Loew’s is so big, Murphy has decided to present the show with the audience seated onstage instead of in the auditorium. This helps create an intimacy between the audience and the actors. She also has a band performing the music.
“It’s the only way for this show to be in this type of space,” Murphy says. “The show is an intimate, gritty, viscerally close show. It’s about regular people and relationships. I’m thrilled to be at the Loew’s. It’s a beautiful venue with all the memories that are there. That’s part of the show. That’s one of the themes of the show.”
The staging is bare-bones, Murphy says. Concert-staging with production elements to a minimum so that the story can be told in a clear and simple way.
“I’m into giving people an experience, carrying them on a journey,” Murphy says. “Maybe it’s my background in experimental theater. If I can’t give them an experience, it doesn’t matter what venue it’s in. Part of me would like to do this show in pop-up form, like at a bowling alley or a church hall or somebody’s living room. “
THE BEAT GOES ON
The Broadway musical about Carole King, “Beautiful” is set in the same time period as The Carmelettes. Murphy took her mother to see the show last year for her birthday and afterwards, they were invited backstage to meet the cast – thanks to Murphy’s producer Steven Minichiello.
“They welcomed my mother like she was royalty,” Murphy says.
Like Murphy, producer Steven Minichiello of Over the Top Productions grew up in Jersey City’s Marion section and attended the same parish elementary school. He and Murphy once belonged to a local theater troupe, and have since remained close friends.
“I’m so enamored by Susan’s mom’s story,” Minichiello says, “and I love what Susan is doing. She’s not only paying tribute to her mother’s accomplishments, it’s a story about the love of a daughter for her mother. I’m so honored to be part of it, and add any little touch I can. It’s a wonderful story and it should be told.”
Murphy’s hoping the performance at the Loew’s will be even more magical than the show they did at LaMama a few years back. Closing night of the LaMama run all three Carmelettes were in the audience, Murphy says, and at the after-party they sang together for the first time in 50 years.
“Something special happened that night,” Murphy says. “It wrapped something up that had not been wrapped up before.”
If you go:
Sat, Feb. 7 at 7 pm
GIRL GROUP: A Daughter’s Tale
Loew’s Jersey City
For tix: www.brownpapertickets.com