Headlining a tribute to the woman Rolling Stone magazine recognized as the “greatest singer of all time” is no small feat, but Crystal Stark is up to the task. Whether it’s gospel, Motown, rock, or opera (!), Stark pays a powerful homage to the legendary Aretha Franklin.
Aretha: Long Live the Queen makes its debut at the Elks Theatre and Performing Arts Center on Saturday, October 12. The show, produced by Khris Dodge entertainment, stars American Idol semi-finalist Crystal Stark. She’s joined by two back-up singers, a horn section, and full rhythm section. The show dives deep into the song pool, including well-known Franklin hits (Respect, Say a Little Prayer, Think, Freeway of Love) along with seldom heard gems (Niki Hoeky, See Saw, and Nessun Dorma).
“We have a similar range and tambour in our voices,” says Stark. “It’s so nice to be able to tap into that, especially when I get to open up and emulate Aretha’s bright, cutting sound which was so celebrated. I try to get the essence of her phrasing and timing, too, because I want to be true to her sound, but then I also make sure to add a bit of myself to it.”
And that’s what sets this show apart from others who pay homage to Franklin – Stark’s method of preparation, research, and commitment to the artist. For this show, she spent countless hours listening and re-listening to Franklin’s ENTIRE library of work. Every version of every song. She says, “Many songs I had to play on repeat a few times to determine how we’re going to approach it. Dodge and I work closely to make sure that we’re bringing forth the best version of every song so that we do. I’m really excited because I have a connection to every song in this show. This set list was picked with a lot of care and a lot of thought – Aretha deserves no less.”
Producer/arranger/music director Khris Dodge agrees. “On the surface, an Aretha Franklin tribute seems like a no-brainer. She was a legend. Her music speaks for itself. But when you look at what a gifted musician she was in addition to being a powerful singer, you pay more attention to the arrangements and making sure that all the details are in place.”
One song, in particular, that receives a lot of attention (even though it’s just Dodge on piano and Stark) is the operatic Nessun Dorma. Even though it was part of Franklin’s regular repertoire, her 1998 Grammy performance was the stuff of legend. Stark says, “Luciano Pavarotti was supposed to sing it, but he got sick and called in 30 minutes AFTER the telecast has started. Franklin was scheduled to perform another number, but one of the producers knew that she had just sung the piece a few days earlier for another event. Producers brought a boom box to her dressing room, played a recording of the dress rehearsal (with full orchestra and choir accompaniment), and, after Franklin determined that she could sing the piece in the key that had been planned for Pavarotti, she agreed. It brought the house down.”
Aretha: Long Live the Queen is produced by Khris Dodge Entertainment. Tickets for the concert are available by calling 928-777-1370 or by going to Prescott Elks Theatre. Ticket prices range from $22-30.