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Chicago's Black Ensemble Theater Celebrates One-Hit Wonders in Jukebox Musical with a Twist

By Jon Sobel j.sobel@classicalite.com on May 17, 2014 09:29 AM EDT
Gloria Gaynor, 1970s Gloria Gaynor, 1970s (Photo : Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Billie Holiday. Carole King. Motown. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Journey, Night Ranger and Styx. Harlem's Cotton Club. Abba (still). Yes, Broadway is nearly drunk on jukebox musicals. But so are theater scenes in other burgs. Over in the Windy City, Rueben D. Echoles and Dawn Bless have come up with a new twist on the jukebox musical for Chicago's Black Ensemble Theater. One Hit Wonders opens tomorrow.

A raft of artists from the 1960s through the 1990s, each of whom had essentially just one hit, are getting encores in this production. They include big names and lesser ones. Gloria Gaynor ("I Will Survive") and Bobby McFerrin ("Don't Worry Be Happy") are here. So are Lipps Inc. ("Funkytown"), Anita Ward ("Ring My Bell"), Carl Douglas ("Kung Fu Fighting"), Billy Paul ("Me and Mrs. Jones"), The Weather Girls ("It's Raining Men") and Lisa Fischer ("How Can I Ease the Pain"). Fischer was featured in 20 Feet from Stardom, the recent Oscar-winning documentary about backup singers.

One Hit Wonders incorporates some 20 songs in all. "The list just goes on and on," Echoles told the Chicago Sun-Times. "It's been an interesting trip back in time with these hit songs. I feel no matter who you are or where you're from or how old you are these songs will move you."

Shows celebrating the music of particular performers are part of the company's stock in trade. Past productions have honored Howlin' Wolf, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Dionne Warwick, Curtis Mayfield and many more.

One Hit Wonders features numerous company regulars, including Kelvin Roston Jr., star of The Jackie Wilson Story, and is directed by Daryl D. Brooks. Music director Robert Reddrick leads the live band backing a cast that also features Yando Lopez, Claudia Cunningham, Mark J.P. Hood, Brittney Thomas, Ally Jones, Mallory Makede, Ta-tynisa Wilson, Donald Craig Manuel, Lyle Miller and Eretha McCullough.

One Hit Wonders runs May 17-June 29 at Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark St., Chicago.

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TagsChicago, Black Ensemble Theater, Musical