Chicago Theatre Review
Music to Raise the Roof
Those Sensational Soulful 60’s – Black Ensemble
During the decade often referred to as the Swinging Sixties there was a degree of relaxation of sexism and racism. It was the era of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the War in Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In music we experienced Woodstock and the Summer of Love, the British Invasion and Folk Music, Berry Gordy, Jr. and Motown.
Black Ensemble Theater, under the leadership and guidance of the indefatigable Jackie Taylor, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this season. To commemorate the occasion, the company is reviving some of their most popular hit shows. “Those Sensational Soulful Sixties” is one of these much-welcome remounts. Ms. Taylor takes audiences, especially those of a certain age, on a joyous stroll down memory lane highlighting the talents and tunes of the many African American artists who entertained with their Soul Music. During the two-hour revue, a talented cast of five men and four women recall many of the great songs, as well as the talented singers and vocal groups who made them popular.
After the titular opening production, written by Ms. Taylor, we’re treated to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” followed by a medley of his other hits. They include “You Send Me,” the catchy “Everybody Likes to Cha Cha Cha,” “Chain Gang” and the sensual “Cupid.” This is followed by Cooke’s infectious “Twisting the Night Away,” with the entire cast showing off their best moves. Then we’re visited by Mary Well’s muscle-bound “My Guy,” followed by the incomparable Shari Addison as Aretha Franklin, breaking the sound barrier with “Dr. Feelgood (Love is a Serious Business)” and the rousing “Respect.” The handsome, talented Rashawn Thompson has a go as Frank Sinatra with a soulful, “That’s Life.” Kenny Davis launches into a lush Sammy Davis, Jr. version of “What Kind of Fool Am I,” and Melanie McCullough brings the sass and sizzle of Tina Turner to “Proud Mary.” Theo Huff wraps up the first half as Otis Redding advising us to “Try a Little Tenderness.”
The second act opens with Rashawn Thompson leading a Smokey Robinson medley comprised of “Oooh, Baby, Baby” and “Mickey’s Monkey.” This is followed by Melanie McCullough, Jessica Seals and Kylah Frye as the Supremes asking the musical question, “Where Did Our Love Go?” and warning us to “Stop! In the Name of Love.” The men confidently execute the intricate choreography of the Temptations as they entertain with “Get Ready” and “My Girl.” We’re treated to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” while the Shirelles ask, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” Next we hear the Marvelettes beg “Please, Mr. Postman, followed by the Crystals, featuring Darlene Love, explaining why “He’s a Rebel.” The Four Tops tell us they “Can’t Help Myself,” Etta James claims her love “At Last” and Kenny Davis creates a perfect Stevie Wonder with “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).”
Those Sensational Soulful Sixties ecstatically blow the roof off the BET theatre with dozens of memorable songs, synchronized choreography, spot-on impersonations and portrayals of our favorite artists from that decade. The audience is even invited on stage to jubilantly join the cast in “The Land of a Thousand Dances.” Accompanied by Robert Reddrick and his seven member musical combo and costumed by Ruthanne Swanson, this show and these performers are guaranteed to make any cold winter night sizzle.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 13-March 19 by Black Ensemble Theatre, 4450 N. Clark St., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-769-4451 or by going to www.blackensemble.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com