The outsized talent of Black Ensemble Theater’s performers keeps you panting for more. When cast member Ereatha McCullough gives full throttle to Frederick Perren and Dino Fekaris’ hit, “I Will Survive”, you have to remind yourself that this might feel like the show’s climax but it’s rather early in the play. By the time Yando Lopez sings Leon Carr and Earl Shuman’s “Hey There Lonely Girl” towards the end of the play, you’ll feel like the thrill of hearing these one-hit wonders will go on forever, or at least you hope it will.
This is an ensemble with large and delicious voices,—Claudia Alexandria Cunningham, Mark J.P. Hood, Allie Jones, Yando Lopez, Mallory Maedke, Donald Craig Manuel, Ereatha McCullough, Lyle Miller, Kelvin Roston Jr., Brittney Thomas, and Ta-Tynisa Wilson. They are supported by an excellent band—Robert Reddrick (Musical Director/Drummer/Arranger), Herb Walker (Guitar), Justin Dillard (Keyboards), and Danny O’Connor AKA Smoke (Bass).
That you are so entertained is perhaps more amazing because there is little in the book of this musical comedy that engages. To paraphrase a line in the play, the script celebrates all the musical talents that became famous for one song only but kept making music because they had to. With the formula of a play within a play we watch as the ensemble tries to put together a show of one-hit wonders. They bicker, they flirt, they try each others’ nerves—but the story line hovers on the surface not far from a hip hop music video script.
That said, know that you will have no problem getting up on your feet to dance or to clap along with the performers. The cast is magnetic and able to overcome any script flaws to bring you along to a happy savoring of music through the decades.
Black Ensemble Theater itself seems to be the friendliest theater in the city. After the show the entire cast meets you in the lobby. Other Chicago theaters could take a page from their playbook and learn how to make the audience part of the family in just an evening.
For fun and to celebrate musical talent, you can see “One Hit Wonders” through June 29.
For tickets visit the Black Ensemble Theater website or call 773 769 4451.
Photos: Daniel Nicholas