If you didn’t know Ruth Brown’s name, you likely know her music. For Colorado musical theater artists Sheryl McCallum and David Nehls, their admiration for Brown’s music and her legacy — and their desire to expose Brown to even more people — have led them to create a new show they are bringing live to Denver.
The Garner Galleria Theatre will host McCallum and Nehl’s bio-cabaret of Brown — “Rockin’ and Rollin’ With Miss Rhythm” — at Denver’s Center for the Performing Arts for two weekends in June.
Ruth Brown is often called “The R&B singer who built Atlantic Records,” and her career included topping the music charts, a role in John Waters’ 1988 movie Hairspray and a Tony-winning role on Broadway in “Black And Blue.”
The cabaret project debuted during the pandemic as a streaming show at Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden. That’s how producers at the Denver Center For The Performing Arts found it and decided to bring it to Denver.
“At Miners Alley, we did two concerts a month, starting in July of 2020 that went until June of 2021,” co-creator Nehls said. “Myself and [Miners Alley Artistic and Executive Director] Len Matheo, we curated those concerts. And because people were at home, they got a lot of views.”
Co-creator McCallum said the pair was drawn to tell Brown’s story because of her ubiquity in American music.
“You hear music, and it's like, ‘Oh, I didn't know that was her.’ Or something else, "Mama, if you treat your daughter mean." It's like, ‘Wait a minute. Oh, that was Ruth Brown,’" McCallum said. “So to me, it's exciting to hear and to tell the story of this woman who has just gone through so many ups and downs in her career, like a lot of Black artists at that time, but still was able to almost reinvent herself to have this amazing career.”
In addition to her storied music career, Brown also helped start the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which helped Black artists get royalties from the sale of their music that were denied to them in the 1940s and 1950s.
The show is an intimate evening filled with music, humor, and inspiration. Nehls said he thinks it’s a great time to remember and celebrate Brown.
“It's something filled with humor and filled with lots of introspective thought,” he said. “And I think it's time for it.”
“Rockin' and Rollin' With Miss Rhythm” plays The Garner Galleria Theatre June 3-4 and June 10-11.
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