‘Too Hot to Handel’ Returns to Chicago at the Auditorium Theatre

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The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University will present the musical, “Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah” as a special tribute to the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jan. 15-16. The show, a jazz-gospel adaptation of

The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University will present the musical, “Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah” as a special tribute to the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jan. 15-16. The show, a jazz-gospel adaptation of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” features an all-Chicago cast of soloists—Tenor Rodrick Dixon, of the popular Three Mo’ Tenors, Soprano Alfreda Burke and newcomer Alto Karen Marie Richardson.

Richardson, who has been singing professionally for 11 years, has been apart of the cast for two years, taking the place of Victor Trent Cook last year. She said that she knew she had some “big shoes to fill” coming onto the production and that the initial thought of the work had somewhat made her nervous.

“Then I made a pact with myself to trust that I knew the music and that I would understand it wasn’t necessarily about my performance, but as Rodrick puts it, the conversation that I have with the audience about God,” she said. “And once I could put the riff-raff of dresses, makeup and shoes behind me and realized that what I had to say was concrete and as important as everyone else on that stage, it became a stronger work for me.”

When she was younger, Richardson said that although she secretly wanted to be a singer, she’d also had dreams of making a career as a comedian. It wasn’t until later in high school that she had even considered making musical theater her occupation of choice.

"I actually got involved with theater somewhat by accident," she explained. "A friend and I were sitting in the foyer area of the school theater being silly and I talked about how bored I was." After watching Richardson’s theatrics displaying her boredom, she said the director of the school’s productions said she should audition for the next show because she was funny. And although she didn’t receive a part, her interest in theater had started to flourish.

"I was going to be a teacher, but I decided to change at the last minute; one of my teachers said you can’t use teaching as a backup plan," she said. "So I made a leap of faith and went to college to study musical theater." She obtained her bachelor’s degree in musical theatre from Millikin University.

Richardson said that her dream has always been to sing live in front of a band or orchestra and to do that for the rest of her life, and she is embarking upon that dream now. She has been featured in such musicals as "Ain’t Misbehavin’," "Respect: A Musical Journey of Women," "The Mistress Cycle," and "Hairspray," which she cites as one of her favorite productions, in addition to "Too Hot."

And although "Too Hot" is on her list of favorites, Richardson said that it wass also one of her most challenging.

"’Too Hot’ has been one of the biggest challenges to me ever in my career because it forced me to revisit my roots, my classic roots," she explained. "I also had to change my eating regimen because you can’t eat junk all the time and sing all this music because it’s vocally demanding. It also asked me to put on the shoes of a gospel singer. I’m not traditionally a gospel singer, and a lot of times people ask me to sing in a style of gospel and I do, but my background is soul or primarily jazz/pop."

Richardson has been working on a solo project that she hopes to release soon–one that will fuse those three genres: jazz, soul and pop.

"I basically use my harmonies and a lot of my melodies and lyrics to describe situations I’ve been through," she said. "It’s kind of like an autobiography, almost like a musical memoir. But it’s not really just to tell you who I am, it’s also just to reach the people. It’s to tell you how cohesive you and I are as strangers. That’s really my focus–to reach the masses and let everyone know we are all the same."

In the not so distant future, Richardson said that she would like to move to New York to pursue other theatrical opportunities. All in all, though, she wants to do a little of everything–film, TV, songwriting and collaborations.

"My belief is that anybody can do anything," she said. "It’s true, and if we actually believe that to our souls, then we would get exactly what it is we want."

Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender

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