At Atlas: Rebecca Magnuson’s ‘She Sings’

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Rebecca Magnuson.

People — even hermits and maybe especially artists — carry a lot of identities around with them at any given time. They allow us to be recognized at a glance, be a certain
somebody, move to a specific tune or gait.

Rebecca Magnuson is a particular somebody, and a bunch of somebodies: Georgetowner; mother of two children; pianist, music teacher and singer-songwriter; supporter of worthwhile causes; frequent traveler between Washington, D.C., and Nashville.

Magnuson is about to share those identities in musical and dramatic fashion with the world premiere of “She Sings,” a one-woman show about one woman and the multitudes of women passing through life’s searing troubles and joys.

On Friday, Nov. 16, “She Sings” will be presented at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE, in conjunction with the release of the 14-song soundtrack.

It’s definitely one of those works that is both deeply personal and almost necessarilyuniversal. “The musical is about healing — not just for me but for many women, and men,who’ve had to live through crises, suffering and abuse of one sort of another, people who endured and rose up again after years. It’s about learning to love yourself and see yourself through your own eyes, not just the eyes of somebody else,” she says.

At first glance, Magnuson belies the intensity of the music and the content of the work. She seems like someone — a tall, longhaired, sunshine blonde — of whom a sunny disposition is expected.

“There is all kinds of abuse in the world,” she says. “People go through divorce, through painful relationships, family issues, friendships. There’s gender and professional issues. There’s physical, but also emotional abuse. To me, this musical and these songs are about healing, healing the wounds from all those things.

“What I do know and love is being able to touch people’s lives through my music. Music is a great healing tool, and songs that are about people’s lives — hard, difficult or triumphant— are powerful tools. They’re valuable in a way that goes beyond how good you are, or performance and things like that.”

In most ways, Magnuson is a true-blue Georgetowner. She’s raised her children
here: Gardner, 16, and Grace, 17. She was trained as a pianist early on, and owned her own music studio.

“I lived in Georgetown for 18 years and loved every minute of caring for my kids, nurturing the friendships I made. I lived close to Montrose Park and have wonderful memories of visiting with friends in Georgetown as our children played, or taking long walks with our yellow English Lab, Sadie, both at the park and through the brick walks of Georgetown,” she says.

Given the season, there are also the Halloween memories for her of “traveling in packs of parents and kids, going door to door.”

An affinity for country music and a desire to write and perform country songs brought her to Nashville, a very different sort of place and city. “I moved to Nashville years ago becauseI wanted to write lyrics and create music that was authentic. The energy I feel in Nashville is one of kindness, creativity, a slower pace and love. Talent oozes out of every corner. Nashville is my second home and I am at peace the minute the plane touches down.”

As she lived her life, dividing her time between D.C. and Nashville, the effort began to pay off. “My first publishing deal was with Garth Brooks’s publishing company, Major Bob Music. I played a few tunes live for Garth Brooks’s business partner, Bob Doyle, who signed me.” She’s written for Sony Tree Studios in Nashville, as well as numerous cuts and songs for independent artists.

“Country music,” she says, “is real. It always told a story or touched a place in me that no other music genre did.”

“She Sings” is probably beyond category or genre, but satisfies her urge to heal, to touch people and to describe life in terms of real stories — especially the sharp and tough “My Voice,” which touches on, not so lightly, the combative language and process of uncoupling, or “Manipulator” or the liberating “Take Me There.”

For “She Sings,” she’s got partners. She’s coproducing with Jim Kimball, producer and guitarist for the legendary Reba McEntire. Bobby Braddock cowrote the song “World Without Love” and Tammy McDonald and Sandra Lee, “my talented girlfriends,” co-wrote a few songs with her. In addition, Magnuson opens the musical with her piano rendition of Brahms’s Rhapsody No. 2. “There is,” she tells us, “also choreographed dancing.”

Braddock says that, in “She Sings,” “Rebecca is giving a voice to the voiceless … to survivors.”

Her friendships have led her to join in support of causes and institutions — Children’sHospital and now Knock Out Abuse, an organization that gives funding to women who are victims of domestic violence. Ten percent of the proceeds from the Nov. 16 performance will go to Knock Out Abuse.

“She Sings” began in her music in one form or another a long time ago, a reflection of things both authentic and rewarding in love. It came together two years ago, and now has become real.

She sings. Yes, she does.

“She Sings” will be performed Friday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m. at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NW. For tickets ($55 to $125), visit atlas arts.org or call 202-399-7993, ext. 2.

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