At one point in "From Doo Wop to Hip Hop," a Black Ensemble show that just tickled me pink, one of the characters says something along these lines: "We're not the same color. But we're all brothers. The proof is in the music." That's pretty much the ubertext of the night, just as it has been the guiding principle of this particular theater company since it was first founded more than 20 years ago. I'd suggest that line for artistic director Jackie Taylor's tombstone, except that it needs the word "sisters" and that Taylor displays distinct signs of immortality.
Is this a profound message? No, it's simplistic. Pollyannaish. I sometimes think reviews of this very singular theater company, where the story is always this story, need to come with a disclaimer similar to the Byzantine set of caveats crafted by the
Who around here is not ready for a show that wants not only to trace a direct line from Burt Bacharach to
Taylor and her collaborator Rueben Echoles are making their case for unity — and if you miss that particular metaphor, they've actually set the entire show on the street of a fictional neighborhood called Unison Hills, where everybody helps neighbors through crises and where they all like to sing on their stoops. It's like a combination of Mayberry, Sesame Street and Spike Lee's "Crooklyn."
They've got quite the rule-breaking jukebox playing here: Amy Winehouse, a hip-hop version of "16 Candles," Lesley Gore,
Actually, there are three knockout vocalists in this cast at a theater that has clearly made a commitment to finding new talent: John Keating, who plays a dweeby mailman who belts out "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" between delivering letters and who belongs in
By Act 2, when the various plots of familial strife and community misunderstandings get tied up in a big block party concert, the good times sure as heck roll.
Black Ensemble has long been about promoting optimism, community and feelings of togetherness. This particular show, which showcases this new North Side theater better than any show to date, goes one further. It makes the case that racial divisions in Chicagoland are totally absurd, especially when there's trouble abroad and songs within.
When: Through April 14
Where: Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark St.
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes