(Protagonists Noelle Frye as Annette Beard (second from left) and Brianna Jai as Rosalind Ashford (second from right) are flanked by the three actors playing Martha and the Vandellas, Karen McCants, Whitney Holmes and Annette Stamps, in a group photo after performing in the stage production of The Vandellas, No More Tears The Untold Story, at The Olde Walkerville Theatre on Saturday, November 30, 2019. Photo above by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.)
More than fifty years have passed since Martha and the Vandellas ruled radio shows, popping out hits like toast out of a toaster. Those heady early 1960s days returned somewhat Saturday night at the Olde Walkerville Theatre.
There the Theatre unveiled the moving play, The Vandellas, No More Tears. This mostly untold story follows the lives of the group’s original two members who largely became back-up singers for Martha Reeves with the trio known as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Intriguingly, Martha was not an original member, she came along in 1960, three years after the group was formed.
The stage play is written and directed by Robbie Taylor and she leaves nothing to the imagination particularly focusing on confidence shaking betrayals. Fame for the trio starts in earnest when Martha Reeves with Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard on back-up vocals, release Heat Wave on September 30, 1963, putting them on an equal popularity footing as the other Motown three girl group, the Supremes.
Like a bullet, it shoots to the top of the Rhythm and Blues singles chart and grabs an equally impressive number four on Billboard’s pop song hit parade. The singers can only go up from there, and they do, but all is not always well.
Their first trip to the United Kingdom has them finding they aren’t as famous as they thought. They first perform in a 400-seat auditorium. Only a hundred seats are taken. Next, it is off to a 2,000-seat venue. Only 200 seats are sold. But in their third engagement, Dusty Springfield joins them and the place is filled and they become legitimate stars “over the pond.”
In the initial scene of the Vandellas, No More Tears, scriptwriter Taylor paints a prosaic portrait of a golden years meeting of the back-up duo filled with reminiscing about their past glories. The memories are sunny until Annette, played by Noelle Frye, recalls the two never had a fight. After some thought, Brianna Jai portraying Rosalind, agrees.
It is a point at which the play starts to open up into the other side of rock and roll with two story arcs far from sunny. Annette is the first to leave the group, favouring marriage and child raising but ends up with a husband who becomes her worst enemy. He exploits the wealth she made from travelling the world as a Vandella. They part company leaving her to raise their children.
Rosalind’s story is a little different. The “powers that be” ask her to leave. Being a Vandella has not required many job skills and she finds herself looking at an advertisement from Michigan Bell. She applies and spends twenty years working for the phone company before she gets a phone call herself.
It is not all that unexpected. Reeves, Ashford and Beard actually reunite for a charity event in Los Angeles in 1978. Beard, who is in the audience with Ashford, tells Eyes On Windsor about Martha continually asking her to come back and rejoin the group. However, with children to raise, she respectfully declines. Finally, with her offspring on their own, in 1989 the trio are back in the recording studio and on the road.
It doesn’t go well. A poignant scene from one of their concerts has Ashford, then Beard, leaving Reeves alone on the stage. This is one of the many mini-vignettes Director Taylor has brilliantly interwoven into the play. Two are most significant, when Beard faces her pleading husband begging for forgiveness and when Ashford is told to, basically, exit stage right.
Jai and Frye are both outstanding as they tell their stories, at times sending chills throughout the theatre through their uncanny ability to tailor their emotions to the stories they are telling. Because it is a drama, there is actually little music beyond the vignettes, but this is a story needing no music.
Scriptwriter Taylor spent hours and days with the singers. Judging by their reaction, she ably distilled all she heard into a very intelligent, highly memorable play which will certainly be appreciated by those who love the Vandellas and those who are new to the all-girl group or those who like to know what really happens in rock and roll and the many other genres that was the world of the Vendellas.
For more about The Vandellas No More Tears the stage play visit https://www.facebook.com/TheVandellasPlay/
Upcoming events at the Olde Walkerville Theatre this December include free holiday movie screenings of Elf (Dec. 8) and The Grinch (Dec. 15) and the 3rd Annual Christmas Cabaret (Dec. 19) for more information visit https://www.oldewalkervilletheatre.com
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.