Franklin helps cast musical about her life


SOUTHFIELD, Mich. -- Breanna Norman quietly walked up to the microphone, took a deep breath, closed her eyes and began singing "Amazing Grace."

About a minute later, the 10-year-old fourth-grader from Detroit thanked "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin for listening to her.

Norman was one of about 70 people who auditioned Tuesday for a panel of judges, including Franklin, for a stage production of the Grammy-winning singer's life and career.

"Aretha: From These Roots" is expected to open in Detroit next spring. Franklin said the major roles will be cast out of Hollywood. The three days of auditions that began Tuesday were to fill out the roles of musicians and others in Franklin's inner circle.

"I'm not hard on anybody. I'm just here to listen," Franklin, 65, said during a break Tuesday. "I try to make them comfortable coming in the door."

Franklin said she was impressed by some of the would-be cast members.

"I just heard someone who has come closest to Sam Cooke than I have ever heard," she said. "I was one of Sam Cooke's biggest fans, and this (singer) was very good."

Those auditioning were judged on voice, singing ability, appearance and presentation, said Ron Moten, one of seven judges.

However, only a few hopefuls received top scores.

"If it's Aretha Franklin's life, you are talking about the best of the best," said judge Greg Dunmore.

Ciara Roberts, 25, of Pasadena, Calif., received a top ranking from at least one judge.

"I came here on a mission and I'm not leaving until I get what I came for, which is playing Aretha Franklin," said Roberts, who belted out a powerful version of "Since You've Been Gone."

Singing styles varied from the opera-trained voice of Teresa Moore-Mitchell, who drove from Salisbury, N.C., to the gospel stylings of LaToya Turrentine, 22, of Detroit and Denise Stubbs of Wayne County's Redford Township.

"I love Aretha Franklin, but I can't sing like her," Stubbs, 42, said after her version of "To God Be the Glory."