Highly Recommended **** If you have never seen a show at Black Ensemble Theater, shame on you! If you have been witness to one of their productions, then you will surely want to see the new version of “Dynamite Divas” on their stage thru January 24th. The original story by Jackie Taylor was produced over ten years ago, back in the old, much smaller theater. This all new, exciting and powerful production on the stage in the new venue is “dynamite” itself so the name “Dynamite Divas” makes even more sense. The direction for the new production is handles by associate Artistic Director Rueben D, Echoles, who has risen during his years at Black Ensemble form cute performer to writer, director, choreographer of some of their best stuff. Jackie hand picked this young man to be her “right hand man” and he has never let her down. He has what it takes and proves it with every show he is involved with. Great work Jackie!
This script was written by Jackie back in 2001 and the story-line is simple. Mr. Maurice, the richest of the rich as far as African -American business owners (Echoles has a ball with this role) is doing a special telecast featuring all of the Divas of the day to promote a brand new invention. “Spoiler alert”- I will not give this away, as I think it might ruin the performance for you. He is buying the time on every network to bring this special to the airwaves. We begin the day as he introduces himself and his ideas to first us, the audience and then the Div.as who have been asked to perform (each earning over 1/4 of a million dollars for the day). We get to meet singers, Nancy Wilson (Rhonda Preston), Gladys Knight (Reshada Dawan), Roberta Flack (Melanie McCullough) and of course, Aretha Franklin (the incredible Shari Addison). While all four of these ladies are brilliant in their roles, it is ms Addison who gets a standing ovation as she shows off her amazing vocal range and ability. Just watching her (and listening of course) is worth the price of admission.But, you will find that all of the voices in this show, as always, at Black Ensemble, are incredible.There are times that I think this troupe could skip the story and just do the music- the show would still be a hit!
Getting back to the show itself, the story takes us through the days from 1941 thru today and the divas that have brought some of this music alive. Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, Donny Hathaway with Roberta Flack (in their young days played by Daniel Phillips and Jessica Seals), Beyoncé (Cherise Thomas) and many others from the past- some live performers, others on video. A smashing 2 hours and 45 minutes of magical music. Mr. Maurice, along with his two aids, Youngblood (Kyle Smith does a great job of creating a comical character) and Hubert (deftly handled by Donald Manuel) make a lot happen in what may be considered a solid entertainment piece. The ensemble of singers and dancers keep the flow of action moving as Echoles directed it to be- Kylah Frye, Tricia Tribble, Averis Anderson and Shavon Hannah play many roles and each one is unique and singular. Echoles, a very , very involved man designed the costumes as well as directing the entire production and they are fantastic! The ladies sitting next to me would have killed for the gowns the divas wore in the final scenes.
The set works better in this version than the previous as the new facility is far better than the old one. The musicians are very important to this type of production and under the direction of the fabulous Robert Reddrick, we are treated to the best of the best as they do songs such as: “God Bless The Child”, “You Don’t Know How Glad I am”, “Killing Me Softly”, “Letter full of Tears”, “Respect” (ends the first act with a rousing standing ovation), “Love on Top”, “On My Own Again”, “Midnight Train To Georgia”, “Guess Who I Saw Today” and many others. Some are much more familiar than others. Some truly amazing renditions that will send chills up your spine! No matter your age, this is oe that everyone can enjoy an dget into! Perfect for the entire family!
“Dynamite Divas” will continue thru January 24th with performances as follows:
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
There will be NO performance on New Year’s Eve or Day, BUT there will be a special show on 12/31- visit www.BlackEnsemble.org
Tickets range from $55-$65 depending on the performance and can be reserved/purchased by calling 773-769-4451 or online at www.BlackEnsemble.org. Discounts for students and seniors is available. The theater is located at 4450 N. Clark Street ( one block north of Montrose Avenue) and indoor valet parking is available at $10. Street parking is also available.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Dynamite Divas”.