The Soul Lounge will be the most happening place in town next weekend, when New Venture Theatre opens its doors to Aretha, Gladys and James Brown.
But the most important guests will be those in the audience, some of whom will sit onstage while the dancers of the New Venture Movement dance company invoke the spirit of the decades between the 1960s and 2015 in its original production “SOUL.” The show runs for three performances on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 10-11, at Independence Park Theatre.
“Our set designer has collected lamps, rugs and tables that will be placed throughout the theater,” says Greg Williams, New Venture’s founder and managing artistic director. “So, you’re not walking into a theater — you’re actually walking into the Soul Lounge.”
Williams is producer of “SOUL,” which is directed by New Venture Movement choreographer Jeoffery Harris Jr., who also wrote the show and collaborated with choreographers Christian Simon and Emanuel Washington in creating the dances.
“Many of us don’t realize we have as much soul until the first melody enters our ears,” Harris says.
This thought came to Harris while choreographing dances for New Venture’s 2014 tribute to Whitney Houston’s music, “Love Whitney.”
“Jeoffery made the point that every one of Whitney’s songs had a soul of its own,” Williams says. “I said, ‘That’s it guys. Let’s do a show about soul.’ ”
Focus initially was to be on the 1970s, but as Williams and Harris explored the subject, they realized they couldn’t cage the genre in one decade. So, “SOUL” will represent a number of decades through live music and dance.
The 26-member cast includes not only dancers but also singers and a band.
“Our name is New Venture, and each year, we pick a show where we venture out and offer the public something different and new,” Williams says. “This is more of a revue piece, but each song has its own story. And we look at the impact these songs had on society.”
Though New Venture Theatre is the Manship Theatre’s resident theater company, it is moving this production to Independence Park Theatre, which has 780 seats compared with the Manship’s 300-plus.
“Our dance productions have sold out in the Manship Theatre since ‘Love Whitney,’ so we knew we’d need a bigger space for ‘SOUL,’ ” Williams says. “We had originally scheduled the musical ‘Ragtime’ for this time, but we learned that the Broadway in Baton Rouge series was bringing it to town. I don’t like competing with another company that’s doing the same play, so we decided to take ‘Ragtime’ out of the schedule and do it another time.”
Instead, New Venture audiences will be feeding on soul music and dance from such classic numbers as Gladys Knight’s “I Got to Use My Imagination,” Aretha Franklin’s “The House That Jack Built,” James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World” and Fantasia’s “Lose to Win.”