Tuesday October 17th 2017

“From Doo Wop to Hip Hop”

doo-wop Chicago has something that no other city can claim- Black Ensemble Theater- that special venue on the north side that Jackie Taylor, almost single handily has built from the ground up. This company has thrived and grown due to the energy and desire of this courageous woman who felt the need to bring the “Black” world of theater to the people of Chicago. By the way, this company has been attracting the “White” population for years and we see it continue to grow. In fact, to show the great diversity that this company brings to our culture, their newest production, a World Premiere, “From Doo Wop to Hip Hop” features four White performers and a script ( written by Ms Taylor and Associate director Rueben Echoles, that has diversity and tolerance as a part of the story.

Most of the Black Ensemble “books” have been of a biographical nature , telling the story of one of the greats in music from “Black History”. In most cases, the white people in these scripts have been the agents, managers or shysters who have taken advantage for the musicians as they rose to the top. While we know, that this may be the case in many instances, the key to what we are served on the stage of Black Ensemble is the great music an dthe marvelous talent that she always finds. What a remarkable gift! To always be able to find just the right talent to present just the right story- Jackie sure has this gift!

The new show is a story about people, people who were members of the music industry back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. They live in a upscale town home subdivision called “Unison Hills”, an integrated neighborhood made up of a great mix of people, each story with a slight link to the others. While I am the first to applaud Ms.Taylor and Mr. Echoles on their marvelous work, I am also one that will be honest about what they call “The Book” ( the story lines). There is a heck of a lot of story in this one and in some cases, it makes the audience uncomfortable as they really want to hear the great music from the great voices with the solid musicians. The purpose of a show such as this is to give audience members a mixture of music that will appeal to each and every member of the family. It will also introduce each generation to the music of the other and by the time the show concludes with a glorious “Block Party” finale, they will all be clapping their hands, stomping their feet and smiling the rest of the evening.

The stories, as I said earlier- about young love, old love, tired love, Black and White, “rapper” and younger sister. class differences are all there, even sub stories about a brother who gets shot in a drive-by and one of the neighbors who almost dies. Guess what? They are stories that are part of every city and every culture and while they are used to draw the songs that have been selected to make this story come alive, it is in reality the performers we see and hear and the music of these periods 9 including some great rap) that make this two hours and fifteen minutes a pure delight.

Songs like “”Our Day Will Come”,”Waterfalls”, a rousing “16 Candles” ( as you have never heard it before) and an absolutely amazing rendition of  “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. to end the first act. This is a song that almost everyone knows due to The Four Seasons and of course “Jersey Boys”, but this version, handled by newcomer to the Chicago scene John Keating, is one that almost had the audience joining in with him! Yes, they wanted to be his back-up singers as he held the stage as if he were in fact Frankie Valli. His character is that of the local postman and he reminds us of Mr. Postman ( from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”, a gentle sweet nerd, but with a good heart and a voice that will knock your sox off. When you see him, you will be reminded of the “Book of Mormon” immediately and can just see him ringing that bell, “hello!”. You will also marvel at the production number they have created out of “You Don’t Own Me”!

But, as in all Black Ensemble shows, talent abounds! There is more talent on this stage handling some tough numbers than one could ever expect in a neighborhood theater. But, This is Black Ensemble and over the years, we have learned that what you will get here is what Jackie Taylor promised  back in 1976- your money’s worth for solid entertainment and like Domino’s Pizza, she delivers! On Time! Every Time!

The musicians, as always are solid , inder the direction of Robert Reddrick ( and steady on the drums). Herb Walker ( guitar), Mark Moultrup ( keyboards),Tracey Anita Baker ( aka Ms Bass) on the Bass, the fabulous Bill McFarland on the trombone,Paul Howard on trumpet and Dudley Owens on the tenor sax. Talk about musicans who undertsand the music of the times!doowop2

This dynamite cast made up of young and old, new and veteran performers is as solid as one can get: the adorable Lisa Beasley, the powerful Cynthia F. Carter, Dabielle Davis , who will show you some great moves, Brandon Markoff Homes, the adorable Marquecia Jordan, Monty Montgomery ( always reliable),Meghan Murphy, notable veteran of BE, Dwight Neal, newcomer Matthew Payne ( who doesn’t need to walk funny to play old- have more fun with it), another veteran, Kelvin Roston, Jr., Erin O’Shea ( another powerful voice), David Simmons ( who has been a member of this troupe for over 20 years), Christopher B. Straw, Lawrence Williams and Coryandre Wright ( another familiar face, and voice). As I said before, these are solid performers who will more than give you your money’s worth when it comes to value. The band, that sits high atop the set ( this is , by the way, one of the most amazing sets ever in this theater(David Ferguson) and the lighting (Denise Karczewski) and sound (Les Spires and Mike Pierce) is top notch. June Saito’s costumes and Helen Lettyak’s props  are as always the icing on the cake.

“Doo Wop” is scheduled to continue at Black Ensemble Theater located at 4450 N. Clark Street through April 14th ( but I smell a continuance if ticket sales soar as they should) with performances as follows:

Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.,Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. ( how does thsi energetic ensemble do two shows in one day? easy- they LOVE what they do and they want to exceed the expectaions of each audience- they do just that! and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets range from $55 to $65 with 10% discounts for Seniors and students. To purchase your tickets call 773-769-4451 or visit www.blackenesemble.org

You can also stop by the box office and take a closer look at the building that Jackie built, The Black Ensemble Theater Cultural center. A builing that was built with hard work, sweat and tears and will help young people in the Uptown neighborhood have a beeter life.

To see what others have said, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “From Doo Wop to Hip Hop”

There is street parking and valet parking next door.

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