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STAGE REVIEW

A journey of missed connections

I am woman. Hear me sigh.

Honest, I wanted to like "Respect: A Musical Journey." Two hours of popular songs, illuminating various aspects of women's lives over the past 100 years? Sure, why not?

Because it just doesn't work, that's why not.

Yeah, the songs are fun, especially if, like their self-proclaimed boomer assembler, Dorothy Marcic, you grew up singing and humming and finger-snapping and bopping along to many of them. But the onstage band at the Stuart Street Playhouse is headache-inducingly loud, the singing is sometimes flat and always flatly arranged, and the staging is gratingly cute.

That might still be OK for a girls' night out, if the basic premise worked better than it does. Apparently Marcic, in her previous life as a professor, had a brainstorm one day as she was researching American popular music of the 20th century: that Top 40 songs sung by women could tell the whole story of women's experience, both personal and historical.

So she strung them together, more than 50 songs in all, from "Bird in a Gilded Cage" to "Video," with many a predictable stop in between: "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Stand By Your Man," and, yes, "I Am Woman." But she also wrote a narrative that attempts to connect each song to a particular woman, historical moment, or both, and that's what turns "Respect" from a light entertainment into a leaden mess.

Some of the women are Marcic's relatives, friends, or acquaintances; some are icons of an era, from Betty Boop to Marilyn Monroe; some are historic figures, including Rosa Parks and Ida B. Wells; and some are just generic World War II factory girls or 1950s housewives or 1960s hippies. And one of them is "Dorothy," a version of the author herself. But none of them, despite the hard work and desperate pep of the four-woman ensemble, is anything like a believable character.

They're not even characters, really. They're ideas for characters. And no ne of them is on stage long enough to leave a lasting impression; it's all just a whirl of jaunty soldier caps and aprons and beach-party headbands and consciousness-raising-group fringe. Those accessories are cleverly designed by Mary Lynne Izzo, but they're no more meaningful than the parade of familiar images flashing on a screen in the midst of Russ Borski's cluttered backdrop, an awkward assemblage of "engraved" portraits of various women. And why bother making cheap shots at the likes of Monica Lewinsky, especially after all this time?

Oh, it's just a muddle, that's all. To be fair, plenty of people in the audience seemed to be having a jolly time; Kathy St. George, doing her best to make the narrator's clunky tone mesh with the relentlessly perky music and staging, is always fun to watch. And Kareema M. Castro contributed some powerful, bluesy singing.

So, fine, you might love it. But will you respect yourself in the morning?

Louise Kennedy can be reached at kennedy@globe.com.

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