By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
When Christina Sajous was a child in the Bronx, she and her mom listened to Aretha Franklin as they cleaned their apartment on Sunday mornings.
Since that time, Franklin’s music has felt like home.
So, as an adult, she didn’t have to think twice when she was asked to direct “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.,” a tribute celebrating the Motown star that comes to the Orpheum in Phoenix Friday, January 13, to Sunday, January 15.
“I love music. I love theater. I love cinema. I’m just a big fan of the arts,” she says.
“When I was approached to do this project, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing.’”
The new production is adapted from McGee Entertainment’s Australian touring show “RESPECT: The Aretha Franklin Story” starring Angie Narayan (“Australian Idol”).
“It started in Australia,” Sajous says. “They have a show that’s running all through Australia. It was brought to us by Right Angle Entertainment to do a variation of the show one of our producers saw.”
Sajous was handed the script and asked to make the show uniquely her own and for American audiences. It had to celebrate the star’s life, from singing in her father’s church in Detroit to touring the country with Martin Luther King Jr. and becoming a legend.
“It wasn’t an easy task,” she adds. “The original script was beautiful, but it had to feel like it was in an authentic space. We did a lot of reworking of the script.”
“R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” showcases songs like “Natural Woman,” “Think,” “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” “Chain of Fools” and “Respect,” of course.
“It’s told from the point of view of four artists onstage — three backup singers and one lead singer,” she says. “We call them ‘hosts.’ They’re all storytellers and representative of who Aretha is. It celebrates the legend, and the legend inside of you.
“You realize when you hear the story of Aretha, there’s no difference between her and you. She’s still a human being who had to endure so much.”
Rewriting the script came with a certain responsibility, Sajous says.
“I felt like I had a responsibility not just to uphold the integrity of what she represented in music, but what it means to my female and a woman of color and an artist. I’m not a mother, but I experienced my mother being a mother. All these things were a part of the ingredients to build a show like this.”
WHEN: Various times Friday, January 13, to Sunday, January 15
WHERE: Orpheum Theatre, 203 W. Adams Street, Phoenix
COST: Tickets start at $45.24