By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Wearing a blond wig (Etta was inspired to go platinum by the great actress Dorothy Dandridge) and working a flow-y blue velvet gown and sparkly rhinestone jewels, Keyton's Etta tells of a tough childhood in Los Angeles with an often-absent unwed teenage mother. Etta's father, it was later revealed, was white pool hustler "Minnesota Fats." One of the nicest moments in the narrative of this performance tells of Etta's first meeting with him when she was a young singing star.
Belting great tunes that include "W-O-M-A-N," "Downhome Blues," "Roll with Me, Henry" (later retitled "The Wallflower") and "A Sunday Kind of Love," Keyton is a marvelous facsimile of Etta James, echoing her phrasing, deep-throated soul and bone-rattling power. She can be riveting at the storytelling, too, getting into some of the dirt about Etta's days on the road with the Rolling Stones and her on-and-off affair with drugs and alcohol. Keyton isn't afraid to show off Etta's sexy siren side either, grinding her hips to a get-down B.B. King number with the lyrics "Rock me, baby/ Rock me like my back ain't got no bone."
At last, she gets to "At Last," Etta James' signature tune. The lead-in story takes aim at "that little heifer Beyonce" for singing it, in James' presence, at the Obama inaugural. In the diva rule book, you just don't sing another diva's song when she's in the room.
Backing up Keyton on keyboard is University of North Texas grad student Alejandro Serrano Ayuso. He's great. Keyton's great. The music's great. A bare stage, good tunes and a lady who can sing the blues. Simply Etta is simply terrific.