review: those sensational soulful sixties

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[originally published: http://aislesay.com/CHI-SS6.html]

THOSE SENSATIONAL SOULFUL SIXITES

Written and Directed by Jackie Taylor
Black Ensemble Theater Company
Black Orchid
230 W. North Avenue, 3rd Floor, Pipers Alley / (312) 944-2200
Extended through February 28, 2007

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
October 21, 2006

Walk into the Black Orchid night club on the third floor of the Piper’s Alley performance complex and you enter a time in which adults dressed to go out in the evening, had cocktails at tables or cozy room-edging nooks, and enjoyed a good solid evening of music presented by good solid performers. As a setting for Jackie Taylor‘s newest revue “Those Sensational Soulful Sixties“, this location can’t be beat. As a bonus, the excitement of the music that emerged from the creative vortex of Motown and other sources that constitutes the core of this show as well as the charm of the performers who present it would provide a draw to any venue. For all these reasons and more, you will want to see this show.

This is a musical revue with a gently insistent nostalgic and inclusive attitude. The first several numbers are performed straight through, with very little patter other than identifying the tune. Sam Cooke’s tunes “Change Gonna Come” and “Twisting the Night Away” get things rolling. If you look closely, your neighbor could be chair dancing or actually standing in the aisles, doing moves you haven’t seen for decades. And the night has just begun. You will receive the usual Jackie Taylor history lessons, linking performers and performances to the historical eras that birthed them. If you had any conscious memory or any experiences within spitting distance of the 1960s, run don’t walk to a performance of this show.

The play list for this fabulous evening was separated into two acts on opening night, beginning with Sam Cooke at the top of the evening and ending with Jackie Wilson. It is possible that the play list will shift during the course of the run and with such a wealth of material from which to draw, I would not be surprised. On opening night in fact the end of Act 1 was listed in the playbill as “Over the Rainbow”, in spectacular homage to Patti LaBelle’s version (and of course Judy Garland’s version before her), yet that evening the actual Act 1 closer was Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness”. In my subjective opinion, altering the emotional “Rainbow” Act ending was a miscue, but what do I know? Everyone will come to this show with a favorite tune, “Try a Little Tenderness” is a fabulous tune whenever it comes, and all will find old favorites among the gems presented by this stellar cast.

I have seen two of Jackie Taylor’s revues in my 18 months in Chicago and have noticed that her understandable focus on the ensemble results in enthusiastic group accolades at the end of an evening but insufficient detail in the playbill to assist the viewer in tracking who is singing which tune in the course of a production. Songs and songwriters are listed (thank you for this) but the performers who present each tune are not listed in the playbill. Perhaps this focus on the group is a philosophical choice on the part of the Black Ensemble Theater. Regardless, I would love to see the performer listed along with tunes and tunesmiths in future programmes. I’m sure that I am not alone in wishing to give credit where credit is due.

Some choice quotes from the show include “It’s not about the size it’s about the voice” and “soul doesn’t have a color.” The entire performance package constitutes a dedicated attempt to evoke a wider understanding of what constitutes soul music. Many of us lived through the times that generated this music and as a result have the sound of this music in our DNA and our collective memories. For younger audience members, exposure to this delightful and well assembled homage will educate and entertain. A powerful combination.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 21, 2006)

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