With all the hub-bub over the recent road company tour of “Motown,the Musical”, we often forget about our Black Ensemble Theater, that treasure up in Uptown that brings us the stories of the world of music in the world of the African-American. Many of us, after seeing the “Motown” production, became interested in the reality of what really took place during that time (the 1960’s) when Barry Gordy changed the world of music, and that of the African-American performer/song writer. What we continue to find out is that those who became famous paid a very “dear” price for that fame. The current production at Black Ensemble shows us another part of the puzzle and how this man, and the industry, changed the lives of some high school girls from Inkster, Michigan, who were known as “The Marvelous Marvelettes”. While we all recall The “Supremes” as THE female group of the time, it was The Marvelous Marvelettes who paved their way into the spotlight and the heart of America.
The book for this World Premiere musical is written by Reginald Williams,who is a member of the Black Ensemble’s Black Playwright Initiative. The members of this group take on the challenge of bringing new scripts and trips down memory lane to the theater and its many subscribers. What is truly remarkable about this company is that the audience is made up of people from all walks of life and that each member of each audience, young and old, Black and White, has a great time while learning something new. This new musical is directed by Reuben D. Echoles, who over the years has risen from ensemble member to choreographer, to director, to Associate Director and has learned a great deal from Founder, Ms Jackie Taylor.
This production is the first where I have seen an actual curtain be used along with some set pieces that glide on and off the stage in seconds. Echoles has learned how to use this larger stage in the new building that Ms Taylor built, to its best advantage. The musicians are still above the action on a platform where the music carries quite well and the five men,under the direction of Robert Reddrick fill the hall with some of the best sounds you will ever hear. This story has some memorable songs,”Don’t Mess With Bill”, “Beechwood 45789″,””My Baby Must Be a Magician”,”Please Mr. Postman” and many others. We even get a taste of some others with “What Becomes of a Broken Heart” and “Heatwave” during their trip to Chicago’s Regal Theater on the South Side.
This play is a look back in time when the African-American music scene was ready to explode, and one man, who was either good or evil (depends on where you were),Mr. Barry Gordy(played by Robert N. Isaac), changed the world. We get to see how he handled his “artists” and what happened to them. He was a man of power in an industry that worked on what was hot and what was not, and he controlled it because he had the tunes that people would buy – that was his story, and that is in fact, his history.
These young ladies played by Melanie McCullough as Gladys), Alanna Taylor (as Wanda), Kylah Fryw (Juanita), Christine Harper (Katherine) , Katrina D. Richard (Georgianna) and Marquecia Jordan (Georgia) are all solid talents with great vocal range and all move quite well. Remember, the music of the 60’s only worked when the performers were “movin”. The talent pool is more that the original five as there were some changes during the 9 years they worked the circuit. Despite the success of the Marvelletes, the Supremes were held in much higher esteem and took over their spotlight.
This is a wonderful look at some history and it is done with some powerful flashbacks as two of the “Marvelettes” are waiting at the airport for their plane to go back to Michigan, and recall the history that they had together with their “sisters”. This is two hours of pure Black Ensemble magic- good story, well told, solid music and great talent (where do they keep finding these young singers?). Other cast members include:Rhonda Preston and Deanna Reed-Foster as Older Juanita and Katherine, who relate their story to us; Ereatha McCullough as Mrs. Sharpley, the teacher that helped these girls stay on course in a world that can be topsy-turvy;Donald Craig Manuel, Claudia Alexander Cunningham, Tamarus Harvell and Daniel Phillips, who does a great job as Jimmy Ruffin.
One thing that always works at Black Ensemble Theater- the love that the performers have for the work they do and the love that the audience members show the performers. While we have some patrons who will talk to the actors and of course clap their hands and want to stomp their feet, the audience is very respectful to their fellow audience members. They turn off the phones! They pre-open their candy! They pay attention to the story and they enjoy the show!
“The Story Of The Marvelettes” will continue through September 7th with performances as follows:
Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $55-$65 with a 10% discount for students and seniors and can be purchased at the box office located at 4450 N. Clark Street in Chicago ( between Sunnyside and Montrose), by phone at 773-769-4451 or online at www.blackensemble.org
There is enclosed garage parking in the building as well as street parking (some metered, some not)
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchiacgo.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Story of the Marvelettes”