Those of you familiar with Black Ensemble Theater and the work of Jackie Taylor know that some of the “books” that make up their musical bios is not in itself “Award Winning”! On the other hand the talent that this marvelous woman finds in Chicago is extraordinary. Their current production, “Don’t Make Me Over” (In Tribute to Dionne Warwick) is one that they did years ago and at that time was wonderful. This new version, in their new venue is even more entrancing.This is the 40th Anniversary season at Black Ensemble and Ms Warwick is the honorary Chairperson of said season. Due to my attending a Black Hawk’s Stanley Cup game, I missed the official opening, and meeting her, but Jackie said I did a good thing ( so I feel better).
This is not a real “book” show, but in fact a script written by Ms Taylor detailing the history of this talented songstress and her historical journey, exploring her music and the people whose paths crossed hers along this trip. Twenty-Three of her hit songs add to the story telling as we watch three Dionne’s and Ms Divine (played to perfection by Alexis J. Rogers , who began her Black Ensemble career with the original version of this show, in a different role. Ms. Divine is indeed the “narrator” and her songs and playful chatter with the audience is an absolute treat.
The 3 Dionne’s are played by Kylah Frye (#1), Renelle Nicole (#2) and Rose Marie Simmons (#3). These are three charming and talented ladies with unbelievable range. Ms. Simmons truly has the sound of Ms Warwick, but the others are right there with her on most of the numbers.
Twenty plus songs are a part of this production- that is the magic of a Black Ensemble production. Most of us knew every song used in detailing this story.”Don’t Make Me Over”, “Always Something There to Remind Me”, “I Say A Little Prayer”, “Then Came You”, “Keep On Movin”, “I’ll Never Love This Way Again”, “This Girl’s In Love With You” , “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”, “Alfie” and the big finish with the audience jumping right in, “That’s What Friends Are For”- WOW!
Yes, music written mostly by Bert Bacharach with lyrics by Hal David (they were a real pairing), “Theme from “Valley of The Dolls ( Andre Previn) and even Barry Manilow (these parts in this show are played by William Dale Rowland) who also does a superb Elton John during the special rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For”! This number will have you singing along, with your heart and soul.
The ensemble members taking on a myriad of roles are:Risha Tenae, Katrina Ri’Chard, Toi Overton (who I have not seen at BE of late, but is as solid as ever), Dennis C. Dent ( a newcomer), Brandon Lavell (another newcomer-Where does Jackie find these talents?) and Gregory Slater, who is quite the dancer. This talented cast fills the theater with great sounds of music, but of even greater importance, wonderful feelings about love and caring for each other. At BE, there is “color-blindness”. It is all about the story to be told, the music to be played and sung and the audience walking out of the theater with a feeling of knowledge and jubilation.
Direcd by Rueben Echoles, this Jackie Taylor script is more a musical story than a play, but the story telling added to the music makes it both entertaining and educational. That is one of the special features of this company. The musical director, Robert Reddrick and his musicians, Danny O’Conner, Herbert Walker, Justin Dillard, Clovis Bordeaux, Paul Howard, Dudley Owens and Bill McFarland make the music ecxciting, never drowning out the performers. The tech is simple, but the glitzy costumes (Echoles), lighting (Denise Karczewski) and sound (Aaron Quick) all add to the special production this is. Our Dionne’s go off and come back on with a change of wigs and costumes in a snap- another magic trick at BE.
“Don’t Make Me Over” will continue at Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center located at 4450 N. Clark Street (at Sunnyside) thru May 15th with performances as follows:
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $55-$65 and are available at the box office, by calling 773-769-4451 or online at www.blackensemble.org
there are discounts for seniors and students as well as groups. INDOOR Valet parking is available
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “”Don’t Make Me Over(In Tribute to Dionne Warwick)