‘how sweet it is: the men of soul’ at Signature Theatre is a music revue supreme

This musical cabaret celebrates some of the biggest soul hits of the 1960s and 1970s from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding.

“We are going to have good times only!” exhorted Isaac “Deacon Izzy” Bell at the top of Signature Theatre’s how sweet it is: the men of soul. With songs from the likes of Sam Cooke, James Brown, Bill Withers, and Otis Redding, this musical cabaret was a hot pot of soul that left the audience’s feet out of control.

Bell, last seen at Signature in Passing Strange, and his musical partner Derrick D. Truby Jr., recently seen in The Merry Wives of Windsor at Folger Theatre, previewed many of the songs with storytelling. The duo shoveled spunk and conviction into the characters within the songs they sang. As soul singer Gladys Knight once said, they “put something in it!”

Ray Charles, Bill Withers, and Marvin Gaye.

Audience participation, including singing along, was highly encouraged. “If you got to stand up, if you got to move, do whatever you have to do to have a good time,” said Bell. Those in attendance more than obliged.

Truby told a story about how his father had trouble finding a woman to date in college. He segued that story into Sam Cooke’s “Another Saturday Night (And I Ain’t Got Nobody).” Truby killed “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” with his commanding vocals. Joshua Jenkins’ piano solo was smooth.

“You can’t talk about soul without mentioning old school gospel,” said Bell. “I grew up in the church.” He rapped about grandmas everywhere in Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands.” Truby brought a jazzy scat to the tune.

Truby prefaced Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me” by talking about the verbal noise found in many romantic relationships. Trey Sorrells’ sax complemented it well and Truby tore it up.

“(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay” by the incomparable Otis Redding was quite moving to me. The song was completed November 22, 1967, just days before Redding passed away in a plane crash, and this rendition was unforgettable. Eliot Seppa’s wicked bass was hitting it. Bell pulled off the iconic whistling at the tune’s end.

Reddings’ “Try a Little Tenderness” was a highlight of the show and punctuated again by Seppa’s bass. As the song scaled from a humble ballad to a soaring dance tune, the band ensured it was a fantastic mixture of instrumentation and vocals.

Truby, recently hitched himself, related how his grandfather told him the key to a long marriage is choosing the Rev. Al Green’s method of marital happiness: “Let’s Stay Together.” Withers’ “Use Me” was funky as dirty socks thanks to Joey Antico’s drums, and the vocals were on time.

“It’s hard seeing some of the things we see on the TV,” Bell said of current events. “Marvin Gaye wrote about his brother in Vietnam, and 50 years later, some of the same things are happening.” From there Bell kicked off “What’s Going On?” which featured a great sax solo by Sorrells. I felt the emotional depth of lyrics such as:

War is not the answer,
Only Love Can Conquer Hate

I heard deep conviction sung into the lyrics of “A Change Is Going to Come,” which was Cooke’s answer to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” In the black box space, there was dancing between the tables with Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” and Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s “Soul Man.” “Lovely Day” was a lovely song as performed by the duo.

This show was high on energy and soul. I expected to be electrified by the singing and the band and I was. I liked the mock rivalry between the singers — it brought a dash of humor to the revue. Under the musical direction of Mark G. Meadows how sweet it is: the men of soul is a must-go.

Running Time: One hour and 15 minutes, with no intermission.

how sweet it is: the men of soul plays through November 19, 2023, at Signature Theatre’s ARK Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue in Arlington, VA. For tickets ($40–$109), call (703) 820-9771 or purchase online.

This production is appropriate for all ages, but Signature does not admit children under 6.

COVID Safety: Masks are optional in the lobby, at cabarets, play readings, and all other public events. Signature’s COVID safety plans can be found here.

how sweet it is: the men of soul

Music and Lyrics by:
Sam Cooke, “Twistin’ the Night Away”; Edward Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)”; Sam Cooke, “Another Saturday Night”; Allen Jones, Alvertis Bell, and Otis Redding, “Hard to Handle”; Bill Withers, “Grandma’s Hands”; Sam Cooke, “Bring It On Home to Me”; Otis Redding, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”; Harry Woods, Jimmy Campbell, and Reg Connelly “Try a Little Tenderness”; Bill Withers, “Use Me”; Willie Mitchell, Al Green, and Al Jackson, Jr., “Let’s Stay Together”; Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On”; Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come”; Marvin Gaye, “Got to Give It Up”; Isaac Hayes and David Porter,” Soul Man”; Bill Withers and Skip Scarborough “Lovely Day”; Ray Charles, “Hallelujah I Love Her So”; James Brown, “I Got You (I Feel Good); Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller, and Ben E. King; “Stand by Me”

Isaac “Deacon Izzy” Bell
Derrick D. Truby Jr.

Music Director/Director of Signature Cabarets: Mark G. Meadows
Artistic Advisor: Ethan Heard
Cabaret Associate Producer: Angelica Miguel
Piano/Keyboard: Joshua Jenkins
Bass: Eliot Seppa
Drums: Joey Antico
Sax: Trey Sorrells
Lighting Design: Chris Stull


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