Female empowerment is sung out strong and beautifully in “Calling All Divas.” Academy Award-winning songwriter Franke Previte co-created the musical filled with unforgettable songs and voices.
‘Calling All Divas’ Sings Out to All
Known for his “Dirty Dancing” award-winning hit “(I’ve Had) The Time of Your Life,” Previte set out with Lisa Sherman to create a musical that sings out to the masses in celebration of female melodic talent. The audience is drawn into the show’s excitement – wanting to sing along and move their feet to the multiple genres of well-known enduring songs.
“Calling All Divas” brings together pop, rock, soul, and country with unforgettable musical hits that showcase how truly positive the power of music is, along with friendship and sisterhood. With four distinct females as leads, the show allows for audience members of any age or musical tastes to find a relatable cast member.
“I wanted to develop a hybrid ― a concert that morphed into a play with a thread of a storyline that empowers these girls in ways that allow the audience to relate to each of them. We have a Broadway rocker, a country girl, a gospel singer, and a young subway singer, and it’s just incredible to watch them seamlessly meld together into a group we call The Un4gettables. Each one is at the top of their own game, even this little subway singer. What blows me away, is the combination of their instant sisterhood and individual and collective power.”
Previte’s creative partner, the multi-talented Lisa Sherman, also plays it strong as a Divas songstress. She is joined on stage by fellow unforgettable female talent: Carol Riddick, Trenna Barnes, and “The Voice” alum Alessandra Guercio.
Divas Is a Journey of Life
Previte understands first-hand the struggles of seeking the brass ring to be a hit songwriter. Experts say to write what one knows and Previte and Sherman took that to heart in creating the toe-tapping show. The show grew from Previte’s and Sherman’s “Decades of Divas” revue which had been inspired by Sherman’s one-woman show, “Songbird.”
“Calling All Divas” takes the audience along on the expedition of struggling songwriter Frankie to find a memorable female voice in his efforts to save an iconic night spot from closing. The four women find each other through the characters’ nightclub audition efforts. Discovering that they are stronger together they form a musical group called The Un4gettables.
The show includes a celebration of hit tunes by of such greats as Etta James, Carole King, The Pointer Sisters, Kelly Clarkson, Aretha Franklin, Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston, and Tina Turner. Previte delights audiences with his original hits as well – with, of course, the “Dirty Dancing” fan favorite “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”
The show not only encompasses a well-appointed stage ensemble, but also a creative team to make Divas an audience favorite. Co-writer Michael LaFleur works his magic as director and choreographer with talents learned working with Celine Dion and Sarah Brightman.
Interview with Divas Co-Creator Previte
Carol Ruth Weber: How did you meet Lisa Sherman and what made you both decide to create “Calling All Divas”?
Franke Previte: I had just moved to the shore, as that was the capital of music for me in the state of New Jersey. A bunch of my songwriter friends asked me to put a band together, and asked me to be in the band. They were people like Mark Rivera – the sax player from Billy Joel’s band and Ringo Starr’s musical director. The band was called The Brotherhood. We were playing a gig at a place called McLoone’s Supper Club in Asbury Park.
After we finished our show I was sitting with an agent and I said to him, point out to me in this room who the other musicians are who I should become friends with. That agent’s name was Sammy Boyd. He pointed to Lisa Sherman, who was talking to another musician, a drummer. Mark and I walked over to the bar to order drinks and Lisa walked by us. As she walked by I leaned over and said, hello. She said, “Hello.” I asked her if she was here with anyone because I wanted to talk to her, and she said, “I’m here with everyone.” to which I replied, I’m part of everyone here so would you like to talk to me for a minute.
She told me she was playing a gig the following night in Point Pleasant on the beach. So, I went to Point Pleasant looking for her not knowing the spot. I looked in every nook and cranny and couldn’t find her. Just when I was ready to leave I looked over to see a big stage on the beach. I saw a guy, who happened to be her booking agent, and asked him if Lisa Sherman was playing here. He said yes, so I parked my car and walked up to the boardwalk.
Next to the huge stage outside was a restaurant/ bar called Jenkinson’s. I walk in and I see Lisa at the bar ordering something. Her back was to me and I tapped her on the back and asked her if the seat next to her was taken. She turned around and said, “It’s you, it’s you again.” I said yes, I came to hear you sing.
We took a walk outside and I told her to get her head together to get ready to sing. I stood in the stands with the other 2000 people who came to see her perform that night. Within the first two or three minutes she started to ingratiate the audience. I could see there was an automatic rapport she had with them, so, I thought if she is any good she has them. Four standing ovations later I decided I needed to know where she was performing next, and what her future plans were as an entertainer.
I said to her she was wonderful and asked where is she is playing next. She told me the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, NJ, and she was putting together a show called, “Decades of Divas.” So, my question to her was, that’s a great name, what’s the production like. She said I’m getting three of my friends together and we’re going to celebrate all the greatest divas for the past 40 to 50 years.
I said to her that’s a great idea – I have some ideas as to what to do with this production. A lightbulb went off in my head to write a story about the four girls, and their backstories of how they became the singers they are – and who their influencers are. Then, I went to see if I could trademark the name and found I could not because it was too close to another name already taken. So, I came up with the name “Calling all Divas” and started writing the story of the girls.
Lisa had been a Rockette and Broadway performer, and she had her own TV show in New Zealand. I found Carol Riddick In Philadelphia who is an amazing jazz blues singer. Now I had the rocking Broadway girl and the soulful blues singer. Then I thought I needed a country singer. I gave my friend Trenna Barnes a call and asked her what she was doing. She said, currently I’m in a play called “Ring of Fire,” but the show is going to wrap up in a month or so. I told her about “Calling All Divas” and she said she was in. So, she became our country singer – who swears she can sing anything.
Then finally, I thought I would really like to find a subway singer. I was asked to sing with this young group that was part of the Count Basie mentoring program called the Rockits. Bruce Gallipani [Rockit founder and Executive Director], and Miami Steve [Steven Van Zandt] from Bruce Springsteen’s band were part of the group of mentors who put the group together. They asked me to sing with one of the young girls “Time of My Life” at the Count Basie.
The young girl that I sang with became our subway singer character until she had an offer to do an off-Broadway play. So, we were looking for a new subway singer when I was turned onto a beautiful voice and a young singer, Alessandra Guercio, who was a finalist on “the Voice.” When I was told about her I went to YouTube and put in her name. I saw her audition for the voice and the song she sang was a song that is in our show called, “The Climb,” originally sung by Miley Cyrus. She knocked it out of the park, and Steven Tyler and Christina Aguilera were over the top about her. I contacted her to ask if she would like to be in our show. She came to see our show in Philadelphia and told me she wanted in to be part of the cast.
There are two male cast members. One is Frank Dicopoulos as the Club owner, Mr. D. Frank was a member of the soap opera, “Guiding Light” for 22 years. This club owner sends out a young songwriter to find the next unforgettable voice to save his club from going out of business. The songwriter is played by Zach Holden.
CRW: Is the Frankie character in the show based on yourself at all?
FP: It is. My story kinds of rings through as some of this character parallels with my life as a struggling songwriter. The club house band in the show is called The Knockouts which parallels my life since I was with Franke & the Knockouts.
CRW: Where do you see the show going?
FP: Well, we are a theater act. We play in any theater with anywhere from 500 to 2000 seats. The show is really a theatrical concert. The whole second act is about who Mr. D picks as the winner. The whole second act is a concert of his decision of who he is going to make a star. We just played the Keswick outside Philadelphia, and July 11 we are playing the Pollack theater on the campus of Monmouth University in Long Branch, NJ.
At the end of the show the girls finish up the night and tell the audience, Before we leave we have a surprise for you, there really is a Franke and he really did write a hit song, let’s see if we can get him out here to sing it with us. So, I come out from backstage and sing “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” with the girls. I tell the audience that the greatest honor is to have the audience know the words and sing it back to you, so, if you know the works stand up and let’s have the time of our lives.
Feeling the energy coming back from the audience singing the song is such a warmth and inspiring feeling to the performer, making me to want to do my best singing it back to them. It’s like they we are in a living room singing the song.
CRW: What have you learned from putting together a stage musical versus performing in a rock band?
FP: They are similar but much different. Instead of singing the story I am writing the dialogue for the story. Then you have to understand that the written word is much different from the spoken word, so you have to let the actor interpret what was written.
CRW: Do you have a favorite song other than your own hit?
FP: I need to think, because there are so many classic platinum hits in the show. The song that I’m thinking of the Etta James song that Carol sings, “At Last.” it is unbelievable. There is another song that the four of them sing called, “Telling Me Lies,” in which they all have a part and then do harmony. Then there is “You’ve Got a Friend.”
CRW: How did you feel when you heard they were bringing “Dirty Dancing” to the stage and how did you get involved?
FP: It started out in Australia and then England, and then Germany. In all of those countries, it was the number one fastest selling stage play. It sold out for a two-year run in two weeks. They asked me to write a third song for the stage play. I wrote, “Someone like You,” which I wrote with the same other guys I wrote “Time of My Life” and “Hungry Eyes” with. John DeNicola and Don Markowitz wrote “Time of My Life” with me. John DeNicola and I wrote “Hungry Eyes” together. Both John DeNicola and Don Markowitz wrote the new song with me.
CRW: [It is to be noted that Previte has also used his music to raise charitable funds. In memory of his friend, Patrick Swayze, the songwriter and performer has two pancreatic charities.] Losing Patrick Swayze way too early was such a crush to the performance world – Do you feel his passing has brought any strides to realizing a cure for pancreatic cancer?
FP: I definitely think it made an awareness for the disease for people who were not aware of just how deadly the disease is. When I met Patrick Swayze at the academy awards he told me how important the songs were to the movie. He mentioned that they turned down 149 songs and the “Time of My Life” was the 150th song that they listened to – and they heard it on the day they started to film. The irony of it all is that they filmed the last scene first. He [Swayze] said by the end of that scene of filming we realized that we had such a tremendous ending to the show. that the comradery of all the actors helped create the movie “Dirty Dancing” to how we know it.
Knowing all this, and how much that song meant to him [Swayze], I wanted to give back. I found out where his wife, Lisa Swayze, was donating her time and I found out it was the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. I called them and talked to Pamela Acosta, who was the person who founded the charity.
I told her that I wanted to take the original demos of “Time of My Life” and “Hungry Eyes,” that they made the movie, and sell them on my Facebook page, Dirty Dancing Demos. In the past 30 years selling those demos I’ve raised close to $30,000.
I have this theory about pancreatic cancer. If everyone in the world could give one dollar we can beat this disease.
Previte Was Born to Create ‘Calling All Divas’
Previte was literally born into music with his father as an opera singer being his first inspiration. The native New Jersey boy went on his own musical journey, releasing his first album in 1971 on Mercury Records with a metal band known as Bull Angus. The band enjoyed some notoriety touring with famed bands such as Rod Stewart and the Faces, Deep Purple, and Fleetwood Mac. They also played along notable groups in the three-day Pocono Mountain Festival.
The “Calling All Divas” creator’s metal travels ended in the late 1970s when Buddha Records signed Previte to be produced by Grammy-winning producer Tony Camillo with an R&B sound. The evolving Previte merged his talent of rock and R&B to form his own rock ‘n’ roll group in the early 1980s, Franke & the Knockouts.
Signed by Millennium Records (RCA), the band had a number one hit in 1981 on the Billboard Hot 100 for its first single, “Sweetheart.” That hit was followed by a number 14 hit, “You’re My Girl” and a number 16 hit, “Without You.” The band was sold to MCA in 1985 when the president of Millennium, Jimmy Lenner, decided to close his label. MCA released the Knockouts “Makin the Point,” the bands third and last album.
Award Winning Talent Led to ‘Calling All Divas’
Lenner did not forget Previte and called him in 1986 with a proposition to write a song for a movie. That song, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” written for “Dirty Dancing,” became an Academy Award winner in 1987 for Previte. He also had another hit in the movie, “Hungry Eyes,” which Previte had previously written when he was seeking out a new record deal for Franke & the Knockouts.
Previte continued the award circuit for “The Time of My Life” in 1987, receiving a Golden Globe, a Grammy nomination, and the ASCAP song of the year award. In 2014 ASCAP honored the song with the number 15 spot out of the 100 best songs ever written.
With “Dirty Dancing” bound for Broadway Previte himself was propelled to be associated with the stage musical. It is fitting that he has created “Calling All Divas” to showcase musical genius and talent. The four talented women rock their collective talents to truly make Divas an unforgettable experience.
Get tickets for “Calling All Divas” shows on callingalldivas.com.
Upcoming show dates include:
- July 11 in Long Branch, NJ at Monmouth University/Pollak Theater
- Oct 5 in Flanders, NJ at Mt. Olive PAC
- Oct 11 in Hershey, PA at Hershey Theater
- Nov 5 in Punta Gorda, FL at Charlotte Harbor PAC
- Nov 6 in Palm Beach, FL at Eissey Campus Theatre
- Nov 7 in Melbourne, FL at King Center
- Nov 8 in Daytona, FL at Peabody Theatre
- Nov 9 in Mt. Dora, FL at Mt. Dora Plaza Live
- Nov 10 in Jacksonville, FL at The Florida Theatre